Actors Sachin Pilgaonkar, Prarthana Behere and director Manoj Sawant in conversation with Padma Iyer about their upcoming Marathi film Love You Zindagi
Sachin sir, you have done a wide variety of roles and characters in your career. The character of Anirudh Date in Love You Zindagi is different from what you have done before. What was it that prompted you to be a part of this film?
Sachin Pilgaonkar (SP): When you get to do a principal character in a film and you get to show a different you that people have not yet seen, it is always very attractive for an actor. When Manoj (Sawant) brought Love You Zindagi to me, I immediately said yes not only because the story was nice and my character was interesting but also because I had a lot of confidence in him. He has been part of the creative field for a long time. He has worked with Zee for almost 17 years. He shot almost each and every title montage of Zee Marathi, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. I got to know him because of the non-fiction show that I was doing for Zee Marathi, Eka Peksha Ek. He did the title montage. And he did it so nicely and with such enthusiasm, that I felt that he had a lot of promise. As time passed by, Eka Peksha Ek was in the need of a new director and I suggested his name. Manoj said ‘I have not directed any reality show before, how will I be able to do it’. I said ‘don’t worry, you will be able to do it and we are all there to support you’. And he did it successfully. He did a few seasons for it and then he left Zee. He wanted to do something different which I think is a common story for any creative person. He wanted to become a film director for which he tried for nearly six years. He tried to make some projects that never happened unfortunately. But he gave his 100 per cent even while planning for it. And eventually it so happened that he came across this story. He thought of me and came to me. I will tell you another thing, which is very important to me. Whenever he was planning something earlier, I was never a part of it. Still he used to come to me and sit with me, explain to me the story. One story he had was with college students and all; of course I couldn’t be a part of that. But he still came to be to get my advice. I was very happy that he had the confidence in me otherwise why would anybody go to anybody. We share the same rapport today that we shared many years back. When he came with this story and narrated it to me, I said let us do this together because till date I had not played a character like Anirudh Date; an elderly man with a middle-class mentality and whose upbringing seems to be middle-class as well. It seems evident from his body language that he is a very awkward man who thinks several times before saying anything. He is a man who has lived his life within certain parameters. He loves his wife, his daughter who is married. His entire life has been about responsibilities. He has always loved those around him, but somehow didn’t find the time to love his own life. In such a situation he finds a person; a ray of hope who changes his life. It takes a complete U-turn. The person responsible for this is Riya, played by Prarthana (Behere). I sincerely feel there couldn’t have been a better casting because this is the perfect casting. And she has done complete justice to it. I am sure that after watching this film people will relate to her as Riya first and as Prarthana later.
Prarthana, what was it that attracted to the role, and how was it working with Sachin sir?
Prarthana Behere (PB): I am honoured. What more can I say!
I got to know about this film from Swwapnil Joshi actually. He called me and said there is this film and if I would be interested in working with Sachin sir. I was like are you kidding me, of course I am. So I happily said yes for this film. I never asked what was was the role or anything. But when I met my director Manoj sir, he explained the character to me. Though I was happy to be working with Sachin sir, I was worried about my role. It was not about how to play it, but the fact that Riya is a dancer, she runs a dance class and he is the student! I have to teach him dance steps and that was worrying. Trust me, behind the scenes, he was teaching me and in front of the camera I was very confident and all.
Manoj, what was the inspiration behind the story? Where did the idea come from?
Manoj Sawant (MS): This is the story of a simple middle-class man, Anirudh Date. Normally it happens that we get stuck in our day-to-day life and responsibilities. Everyone wants to do something in their life, but due to their day-to-day routine they are unable to. And one fine day they realise that there were things that they wanted to do but couldn’t. Some of them start to pursue that and I think everyone should irrespective of their age. Usually when you cross 50 you feel that you have missed this, or I couldn’t do that. But then you can reinvent yourself and do that.
It is a story about a simple family. Another important person in the story is Anirudh’s wife. She is a very supportive woman. She trusts him. It is played by Kavita Lad. She lets him achieve what he wants to. But then things happen, which you will see in the film.
The character of Anirudh Date is very different from what you are in real life. How do you approach such a role? What is the process?
SP: I think that is the most interesting thing for any actor to play a character he is not. That is why it is challenging; it is interesting. And you are out of your comfort zone. I play badminton. This is the only workout I feel in which your body is in shock mode. You really don’t know where the shuttle is going to come from or where the opponent is going to hit and how. So you have to be alert; you have to be on guard all the time. Likewise for an actor, when you get a role that is not a part of your life, then it becomes very challenging.
Why to do easy things in life, has been my question right from my childhood. Fortunately I got an opportunity to work in different roles right from the age of four and half. This is my 55th year in this industry. And I feel very lucky and fortunate that I have been associated with so many great people and legends. Some of them are living legends and some of them unfortunately are no longer with us. But their contribution still lives on; for instance Meena Kumari, Sanjeev Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Guru Dutt ji, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Majarooh Sultanpuri, RD Burman, Sahir Ludhianvi…
MS: He has been so lucky.
PB: We are lucky to have worked with him.
SP: Let me tell you one thing. Because of my association with these people; not just hi-hello but an intimate association, they have spent hours together to share things with me; months together, years together. I don’t know if you know my connection with Meena aapa, Meena Kumariji. If I may take a moment to talk about her.
PB: Sir, I know. You have told me this story.
SP: I was working with her in a film called Majhli Didi directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. She noticed a minus point in me. I was nine years old at the time. She noticed that my diction in Hindi was wrong. And she asked me what language I speak at home. I told her my mother tongue is Marathi and I speak Marathi at home. ‘So when do you speak Hindi?’ she asked. I said ‘Whenever I am on the sets, when I say my dialogues or interact with people here who are non-Maharastrians’. She told me that ‘Tumhari Hindi mein marathipan jhalakta hai and this is not a very good thing for you in the future.’ So I asked her what could I do about it. She said ‘let us do something together’.
She spoke to my parents and took their permission to for me to go to her house to learn Urdu, four times a week, two hours every day. Ashe is used to send her huge long car. I used to be excited sitting in that car and travelling. I used to in the backseat as I wanted to enjoy the views outside the windows and have fun. I used to like in Taikalwadi, Dadar near Shivaji Park. She lived in Janki Kutir. When I reached there, one hour out of the two she used to play table tennis and the next hour she used to make me speak Urdu. She used to say a word and I used to repeat it, then she used to correct me. This went on for some time and after a few days I got bored. I asked her why don’t we play that only?. She said ‘No, woh bhi kuch dinon mein band ho jayega aur phir yeh hi karna padega’. Then after about a month or two I asked her ‘Meena aapa iska kya faayda hoga?’ She said ‘Beta, tum ho likhni padi nahi aaye Urdu, koi parwah nahin. Lekin bolna aise aana chahiye ki raah chalta aadmi ruk kar mudkar dekhe, kaun bol raha hai. Aur tum faayde ki baat kar rahe ho, tum ko bahut kaam karna hai aur ek din aisa aayega jab tum yaad karoge ki tumhari koi aisi aapa thi jo tumhe ye de gayi’.
And believe, me there is not a single day of my life when I don’t think about her. Those people had the grace to give a lot to people. They never felt bad in giving. Today people think by giving they are losing something. But it is not like that. This was a small thing for her, but for me it was a big thing. With all the people that I have mentioned I have experienced this.
Now coming back to the topic, when I go on the set I bring all these people along with me. I don’t have to make any effort for that because their teaching and my learning is there with me. No one can steal it away from me. So, when I got on to the sets I bring the discipline that I have learnt from them. Everything is not supposed to be drawn on a board to learn. You have to grasp it, behave like a sponge, imbibe everything in you, practice it and work towards it. Acting is not the only job you are responsible for. It is the way you behave with your unit, with your director, with your co-actors. That makes you a complete actor.
So as far as my actors are concerned I have been lucky to be associated with very talented people and good human beings. I have learnt a lot of things from many people. The one thing I have learnt from Mr. Amitabh Bachchan is that when you read a scene and you don’t like it, you tell your director that you are not convinced about it. But if the director says that ‘I have worked on this for two years. It may not seem convincing for you but for me it’ you listen to the director.
Manoj when you work with someone like Sachin sir who himself is a director and you being a first time director, how do things work on the set?
MS: There were never any issues. He is very disciplined and I know he is very experienced. I know the kind of knowledge he has. But on the sets he was very clear that I was the director and he was there as an actor. That is a big thing. If he wanted he could have dominated me. He never interfered in anything but he just played his role as Anirudh Date. When people asked me how did I manage, all I can say is there was nothing to manage. I was working with a disciplined person who knew what to do on the sets. But as a first time director it was a guiding force to have him on the sets and I used to feel confident.
SP: There are two reasons for me to not interfere in a director’s work. First of all I don’t like to do that. I wouldn’t like any actor to do it to me. You practice what you preach. I come from that school where the director is God. He is my leader; he is my guru. And the other reason why I don’t interfere is because I am not being paid for it. Why should I give my expertise and then have someone else to take the credit?!
Prarthana, it can be intimidating when you are working with an experienced actor. How do you get over it?
PB: One should be aware that this is your job, acting irrespective of whoever comes in front of you. This is what I have learnt. If you are acting it doesn’t matter who is in front of you and that is what you keep in mind. Before the shoot I was literally shivering, but I realised that I would not be able to concentrate. After pack-up I know that it is Sachin Pilgaonkar and I am in awe of him. But in front of the camera I let it not affect me.
Actually there is a scene in the film where I am supposed to smoke in front of him. That was the first day, first shot. I am talking to him as if he is my best friend. I went to my director and told him that I was very nervous. But he was confident that I would be able do it.
SP: And I have to say she did it brilliantly. Even Kavita has done a brilliant job. These two are the pillars of the film and have supported Anirudh Date.
Sachin sir, as an experienced actor how do you put younger actors and newcomers at ease?
SP: I be myself. I am not what they may have probably kept in their mind, before meeting me. They may think that I am very serious, very strict. I say that experience gives you brilliance and bullshit! I do a lot of bullshitting behind the camera.
PB: He is very chilled out. He used to have so much fun, even the younger lot didn’t have such a good time as he did. He was teaching us how to have fun. He was that active and energetic.
SP: The notion changes when they meet me and mingle with me. Then they are at ease. My daughter Shriya’s friends when they come home, they come as her friends and leave as mine. That is how I am. To be the other person in Love You Zindagi was not at all difficult for me. To play Anirudh Date was difficult. I wanted to keep that difference, the awkwardness in the body language, the way he talks. And when he transforms, he is at ease, like I am.
My mother still pulls my cheeks. I sit with her and have my breakfast every morning and dinner every evening whenever I am in Mumbai. I am pampered by her, I am a mumma’s boy. My wife knew this before we got married and she was happy about it. She also belongs to a very close-knit family and they value the family life and relations. The child within me is still alive because of my mother. I feel never let feel otherwise. The moment I behave like an old man in front of her, it will reflect on her. It is not something put on, it is inherent. That is why sometimes I tend to behave childish. But that is a part of Sachin Pilgaonkar. The moment I go into a shell I will not remain Sachin Pilgaonkar which I don’t want to.
Finally, what are your expectations from the film? What do you want the audience to take away?
MS: I think there is a lot to take from this film. It is the story of a middle-class, simple man, written also by middle class simple man. People will identify with the character Anirudh Date. Whoever will watch this film will relate with him and his aspirations. That is why I feel that it will touch the audience. When you grow old, you feel it is all over. This film shows that you don’t have to feel like that.
SP: And all this conveyed in an entertaining manner. It is not preachy.
MS: It is a humorous film and at the same time showcases family values also. It is a clean family entertainer.
SP: Forget about me playing Anirudh Date, if Nalu was not played by Kavita or Riya was not played by Prarthana, this film would have been incomplete.