Nagpur Today Associate Editor meets the cast of Marathi play ‘Kahani me twist’ and talks to leading actor Saurabh Gokhale about Marathi films, serials and plays in a free wheeling conversation.
After a three day stint in Nagpur, this Marathi play will be performed in Aurangabad after which a long sojourn is planned for many cities in the US. ‘Kahani me twist’ will be performed in mid west, south and some east- coast US cities too – wherever Maharashtrians are to be found.
This two act play with just three main characters Girish Oak, Saurabh Gokhale and Prajakta Ganpule was a gripping and fast paced drama that kept viewers riveted to their chairs. The set, supposedly of an aging star’s farmhouse in Panvel, was very interesting and attractive too. It had been carried all the way from Mumbai to Nagpur along with the other props.
Without letting out the story entirely, I can share that it was about a much married star and his fourth wife/ live in partner who welcome a young, heart broken and jilted writer to their farmhouse in Panvel; each with his/ her own motive. The writer realizes he is with an eccentric, unpredictable man but finds the lure of lucre and the seductive charms of his young wife too tempting to resist. He is instructed to write a play exclusively for the Star and his wife but the subject and writing of which must remain a TOP secret.
All three did a marvelous job with the acting, without a tinge of overacting that Marathi theater personalities were earlier known for.
Girish is a versatile and prolific actor of Marathi tele serials too and can be seen on a Zee marathi popular serial currently. Saurabh has acted in two Marathi serials too of which ‘Radhi hee Bawari’ aired 360 episodes. He was the leading lady’s younger brother in ‘Oonch majha jhoka’ based on real life characters. He will soon be seen in 3 different Marathi movies which are all very different in story concept and the characters he gets to play.
Chat with Saurabh Gokhale
At first sight Saurabh comes across as a friendly, attractive, slightly built, fair complexioned person – perfectly made for show business. (And fair and handsome ads!) He is just 32 but has acted in three popular Marathi serials, four Marathi movies and a play that he loves to travel around the state performing for… Now they are taking it to USA too.
You are surprised to learn that he comes from a family of Doctors and grew up in Pune in typical orthodox ‘Chitpavan-Pune-Brahmin’ culture that is a legacy of the Peshva times of Pune. “I come from Shanvar peth, that is as hard core orthodox-Pune as you can get” he says with a chuckle. He went to a school called ‘Nutan Marathi Vidyalaya’ which again is as much a symbol of Pune as the Shaniwar Wada! Probably due to his angelic and cherubic looks he was selected for school plays and ‘cultural activities’ which lightened the spark of Acting in him.
“It amused both my Doctor parents that their son wanted to grow up and Act” remembers Saurabh. “They never opposed my choice of a career; though they were not just physicians but Corporate Doctors working for Tata Motors.”
After doing a stint with tele serials he shifted to Mumbai where the ‘action’ is for the film industry. Along way he also got married to a girl who is as bitten by the acting bug as he. She will soon be seen in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ as Bajirao’s ‘sali’. She is Anuja Sathe and has done the lead female role in Marathi movie ‘Capuchino’ produced by Nagpur industrialist Santosh Deshpande.
Marathi films vis a vis Hindi films co existing in Mumbai
The Indian film industry is based in Mumbai, rather than the more artistically inclined Calcutta or theatre-city Delhi because of stalwarts like Babasaheb Phalke and V Shantaram who brought cinema to India. Later producers, actors etc. from North India, specially Punjab moved in as also many Khans and the locals lost their footing in the very industry they had created.
Gradually Marathi movies became either show cases for ‘tamashas’ ( folk dance of the state) or Dada Konkde ‘shtyle’ vulgar two-meaning comedies. They had niche audiences and did less than 10% business than Hindi films did. When Marathi actors ventured into Hindi movies they succeeded only as character actors like Ramesh Dev, Shriram Lagoo, Sadashiv Amrapurkar and Nana Patekar. When they figured as leading men, they had short tenures like child star Sachin Pilgaonkar who grew up to do a few Hindi films before turning to Marathi, Amol Palekar and the contemporary Ritesh Deshmukh who still seems to be struggling for a foothold despite his superb comic timing and impressive acting skills.
Why do Marathi actors not seem to succeed in Hindi films? I asked Saurabh.
“To succeed in Hindi films one must pay a lot of attention to appearance and fitness. Most Hindi films have been action-oriented where brawn factor was very important. Marathi men just cannot compete in this department of ‘showcasing your six pack abs and flexing your arm muscles'” says Saurabh candidly. Probably the only exception was Millind Soman, who despite his enviable physique and good looks did not want to become an ‘action – hero’.
“But yes! where it comes to acting talent they have oodles of it and have proved themselves time and again on screen – in Marathi and Hindi films too!” (Just think – Atul Kulkarni , Mohan Agashe, Vikram Gokhale, Shreyas Talpade and we rest our case).
Marathi girls have had it much better and succeeded in making a mark like Madhuri Dixit, Sonali Bendre, Shobhana Samarth, her daughters Nutan and Tanuja and grand daughter Kajol.
But when you come to Hindi film Heroes – you have to be a Kapoor, a Kumar or a Khan to be somebody seriously in the reckoning.
“Yes, another reason – apart from physique – that these guys rule the roost is because most Hindi films show case Punjabi culture; specially the shadis or at least Hindi speaking culture from towns of UP. How many heroes of Hindi films are called Kulkarni or Joshi or Tendulkar?” Replies Saurabh, tongue in cheek. You get what he is saying!
“But heey! We might miss out on the fame and the money, but we enjoy the craft and acting satisfaction” says Gokhale, adding ” what are Hindi film stories? With some variations they are all love stories; while as in Marathi movies ( specially those made these days) each movie has a unique and different story. We deal with contemporary issues, even controversial ones without hesitating to take the risk.”
Sourabh’s own three movies awaiting release soon are: Bho bho, Paratu and Shinma.
Bho bho is a murder thriller where the main suspect is a dog, Paratu is about a boy born to Rajasthani parents but brought up in Maharashtra after he gets lost in Mumbai . After he grows up it depicts his Marathi parents with their conflicting emotions when they want him to find his roots but also fear losing him; Shinma is about a has-been director wanting to make a come-back by making a Marathi Sholay but the village where he wants to shoot this ‘epic’ want him to also show case their burning water problem!! Each movie is as different from the other as chalk to cheese.
“The reason we can have fun making movies on such varied topics is we do not fear a ‘flop’ as much as Hindi films do… we are made with small budgets of 3-5 crores which is far less than even the ‘marketing budget’ of an average Hindi film.” (Compare this to theTelgu film Baahubali about to be released made with a whopping Rs. 300 crores and touted as the ‘most expensive Indian movie ever’ and you get the two ends of the spectrum).
“Even if our movies do well in Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur we recover our expenses”. Says Sourabh. I find the omission of Nagpur significant.
“Yes, trade in Nagpur is not even a consideration when we release our films” candidly confesses Saurabh. “Not many Distributors are forthcoming from Vidarbha where they clearly say ‘people prefer watching Hindi films'”.
With budget constraints how do they compete with the ‘big boys’ of Bollywood when it comes to hiring studios for shooting and theaters for release of Marathi films? NT asked.
” It is indeed very frustrating and demoralizing ” concedes Saurabh. “You are treated as second class citizens everywhere. Studies want you to utilize their spare slots without giving much concession in rates; so also the studios”.
Hasn’t the recent dictum of CM Fadnavis to multiplexes of compulsorily releasing Marathi films helped?
“Yes, it was an encouraging gesture, but if you really want to give us a hand up, please help from the initial stages of making studios in Film city Goregaon more easily accessible to Marathi movies and offering other financial assistance” replies Saurabh.
A heartening factor is that now international poducers too are coming forward to finance and produce Marathi films. Sourabh’s ‘Paratu’ is financed by East West Company from USA.
So Nagpurians – go watch Marathi movies and Marathi plays if you really want to be entertained and educated. They are total ‘paisa vasool’.
The author of this piece would really like to add a footnote here. Watching a Marathi play in our Vasantrao Deshpande Hall was a pleasure as well as a pain. The hall is designed well and has good air conditioning that still works! Nothing else does but – the seats are broken, the loos ( even in the green rooms for the Actors ) have broken windows and are dirty, so imagine those for the audience? Probably due to such reasons the hall was half empty even for such a delightful play and the enterprising actors – the senior most of whom, Girish Oak, is originally from this city, were disheartened about the missing audience and the condition of the theater.
In the last scene of the play Saurabh has to fall down on the stage. When he got up after the play was over, his clothes had become so dirty it was unbelievable!
“Do they even sweep the stage once in a while at least?” Asked Girish Oak with disgust.
NMC officials and Nagpur rulers – are you listening?
– Sunita Mudaliar