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Playing It Right

PLAYING IT RIGHT

Subodh Bhave and Trupti Toradmal, the lead actors of the Marathi film Savita Damodar Paranjpe, along with the film’s director Swapna Waghmare Joshi, talk to Box Office India about their film

Box Office India (BOI): How did Savita Damodar Paranjpe come about?

Swapna Waghmare Joshi (SWJ): Trupti (Toradmal) and I have been friends for the longest time, very close friends. She wanted to get into production and she and John (Abraham) decided to co-produce. I definitely wanted her to act. She is a great actor. So I wanted to crack a subject that would do justice to her talent and passion for the art. 

We discussed things for at least six to seven months, and suddenly I thought of this subject. This is one of my favourite plays. And she immediately said, yes, let’s do it. But I said we have to get Subodh (Bhave). He is an extremely busy guy. So we bullied him, blackmailed him, harassed him (Laughs). Then I contacted Shirish Latkar, who is my favourite and regular writer. He did a brilliant job converting the play into a screenplay. And that’s how it all fell into place.

BOI: Trupti, when someone decides to make their debut in cinema, especially acting, they choose safe subjects and roles. This character is not a safe choice. What made you say ‘yes’?

Trupti Toradmal (TT): My genes (Laughs). I have always liked challenges and this story was very much appreciated during its time. That was the challenge for me… such a beautifully done play and a true story as well, these were the two USPs for me. I didn’t want to just do a glamorous role. This was a perfect launch for me because it is a performance-oriented role. You usually get the opportunity to grab a role like this, maybe, four to five films later, but I got to do it in my very first film. 

When the story was narrated to me, I was completely sold by the interval point. I didn’t think of it as horror or anything. For me, it was a love story and poetry because the way she weaves her characters is poetry. It is a love story of two people and their journey where they encounter an incident and how the incident affects both of them and the people around them. And the journey of both our characters, Subodh’s and mine, is very delicate. So, to portray that was beautiful. At the same time, all of us have dark shades which we usually hide from others. I had to visit my dark places. It used to pull me down at times but then I have never taken the easy route in my life. And to see the effort become a reality is fulfilling. 

BOI: Subodh, why did you agree to be a part of this film?

SWJ: Me. He doesn’t need a script (Laughs).

Subodh Bhave (SB): That’s true. When Swapna comes to me with a film, I have no option but to say ‘yes’. The only thing I can control is the availability of my dates. She always comes with such varied and different subjects and characters that I have to be a part of her film. And personally I don’t like to do similar roles. The reason we are in this industry is because we want to stay away from a monotonous existence. If I have to do the same role again and again, I might as well go back to my regular job. As an actor, I feel that my characters should challenge me. 

Also, I am always fascinated by the stories of Marathi theatre, the older times. I am also a part of theatre but I didn’t have the opportunity to be a part of those plays. I think it is my vested interest that I want to connect with the past through this film. Even though I was not part of the original play, I can still connect to that piece of literature through this film which is based on the play. I am able to touch the work of these legendary actors through such endeavours. The fact that I am able to follow in their footsteps, I think this is their blessing for me and this film. 

With regard to this role, this character appears like a regular one and the relationship between the characters looks simple enough but that is not so. The human mind is complicated and it is not easy to understand the human psyche. We are all grey characters. While telling the story of such characters, it is important to define the degree of grey. And when you are able to achieve the right degree of grey, the role is successful. And when you have a director like Swapna, there is no chance that you will mess that up. And when you have a co-star like Trupti, who comes from such a great lineage and is hardworking as well, everything else falls into place. 
A good team of actors, a film based on a good play and a director like Swapna prompted me to be a part of this film. Another interesting thing is that the character I play in the film was played by Sudhir Joshi in the play. And I consider Sudhir dada as my father in Mumbai. So I think it is his blessing that I am part of this film. 

BOI: As a director, how do you make this film relevant to young people, since an entire generation may have not seen or even heard of the play Savita Damodar Paranjpe?

SWJ: This subject is not generation-centric or age-centric. The thrill part of it or the edgy part of it is as relatable today as it was in those times. Still, we have set the film in the ‘80s, for the simple reason that we would have to give a lot of justification to what is happening in the story. 

And since it also based on a real story that happened in the writer’s life, it would have taken a completely different route. We didn’t want to do that, we wanted to remain loyal to the play. So those who have seen the play will still feel that it is their play, and for those who are seeing if for the first time, it is a new story which could have happened, in fact it has happened. 

I was recently asked if it was outdated, and I replied, can love be outdated? So this is all about love, the emotions of two people, a husband and a wife. Usually, it is a seen force that tries to destroy their happiness. Here it is an unseen force. So they are trying to analyse it, see whether they can resolve it and how. That is a very edgy journey. And I think today’s generation loves edgy stories. 

BOI: Were there any apprehensions about whether you would be able to do justice to an adaptation of such a successful play?

SB: I never thought about that. We put so much pressure on ourselves by thinking about doing justice to the previous work. And I don’t think there is any need for comparisons either. Festivals are celebrated by every generation, what changes are the ways in which they are celebrated. But we don’t feel any pressure about that. 

Similarly, acting and making films is a celebration. And if you work under pressure, you will never be able to work well and it will reflect on the screen as well. I never thought about whether I would do justice to the original actors and the play; my only focus was playing my role properly. That is all I thought about and I think that is all that one should think about. 

BOI: As a director, what the most difficult thing while adapting a play?

SWJ: Honestly, everything is easy and everything is difficult. I had directed this play when I was in college. I knew the zone, the characters. What was difficult for me was to forget what I had done earlier and create something new, while at the same time respecting the play. That was the challenge for me, because the play was so much a part of me. For instance, when I was narrating the script to her, I remembered the dialogue in great detail. I had to undo that and at the same time not touch the main soul of play.  

BOI: How did John Abraham become a part of this film? And what was it like having him on board as producer? 

TT: John and I are friends. So when I decided that I wanted to produce a Marathi film, I asked him to guide me, especially since he has a wonderful and successful umbrella such as JA Entertainment. He too expressed his interest in getting into this space as Marathi content is really nice. So he said, ‘Let us do the first film together, you can learn about production and act in the film as well.’ 

I then introduced Swapna tai to him and since then our journey has been beautiful. He is an absolutely hands-on producer. He was there for every meeting. He offered suggestions but never imposed them on us. So, for us, especially for Swapna, it was a wonderful experience. With so much freedom, Swapna tai held my hand and walked me through all the nuances of production. 

Not only in the making of the movie, he was also instrumental in giving the film a perfect release. He said that he wanted to give the film its due respect. I didn’t get it then but when I think about it, with Kumarji (Mangat) coming on board, I now understand what he meant. He is the best producer that I have worked with, but then I haven’t worked with anybody else. Even she (Swapna) vouches for the fact that this has been a great experience for her.

BOI: During the trailer launch, John said that the best content comes from regional cinema because they are not bogged down by big budgets. What is your take on that?

SB: Regional cinema, irrespective of language, does not have the pressure of stars. We are not worried that if there this particular star, the film has to be part of the 100-crore club. What matters to us is how long the film stays in the minds of the audience. If that doesn’t happen, there is no point being in the 100-crore club. If people forget the film like a day-old newspaper, the films we make will have no meaning.

In the film industry, there should be a bouquet of films. If we have all roses, it won’t work. We need different types and different colours. So Marathi cinema is now slowly becoming a bouquet of different genres. There is Savita Damodar Paranjpe, Maska, Nude, Gulab Jaam. I am proud to be part of these varied efforts coming out of Marathi cinema.

BOI: But regional cinema is still fighting to find its space, especially Marathi films. Why is that?

SB: A child learns Hindi without being taught the language and I think that is a major factor that goes against Marathi. Another thing is what Adoor (Gopalakrishnan) said and I agree with him, that Indian cinema is not Hindi cinema; Indian cinema is cinema of every language in this country. Hindi is just part of that. All are equal. The thought that Hindi cinema rules the country is detrimental to regional cinema.

In the South, they have always been against Hindi. They don’t support it much and also the languages they speak are very different from Hindi. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Marathi. And with the Hindi film industry being headquartered in Maharashtra, in Mumbai, we see the Hindi films first. But we are also to blame for churning out the same kind of films and not offering the audience any variety. But that is changing slowly and people are keen on watching Marathi films. 

BOI: How do all off you view box-office numbers?

SB: Numbers matter. But it is only when the figures being quoted actually reach the producer that it is worthwhile. This gives the producer the confidence to invest in the next venture. If a film is able to give numbers that will give the maker the confidence to make a different film, then that is enough. When we were in school, getting 70 per cent was satisfactory, but today even 99 per cent is not good enough. So numbers aise ho ki jisse dil khush ho jaye aur hame aage jaane ka confidence mile.

TT: Numbers are important for me to break even, so that what you have invested comes back to you and you are can reinvest the money to make one more beautiful project. We are all in it because of the passion, and I can vouch for all us including John. I remember when he met Swapna tai for the first time, he said, ‘Mujhe ek achchi picture banaani hai. I am not thinking about the numbers. As long as we break even, that is all that matters.’ I hope we go beyond breakeven and make another Marathi film.

SWJ: A producer has trusted me with his money, so I always pray that they get back their investment. Beyond that, I do not understand numbers.

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