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Interview Marathi

I search for an element of humanity in negative characters: Shashank Shende

In an interview with us, the Ringan: The Quest and Redu actor spoke about his interesting journey and shared his views on the current state of Marathi cinema.

Keyur Seta

Actor Shashank Shende has been working non-stop for almost a decade. He started out with Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey (2009) and veered towards Marathi cinema with films like Khwada (2015), Half Ticket (2016), Ringan: The Quest (2017), Looose Control (2018), Redu (2018) and Maska (2018).

But not many people know that his aim in joining the industry was to become a director. In fact, he is still keen to claim the coveted chair. In an interview with us, Shende spoke about his interesting journey and shared his views on the current state of Marathi cinema. Excerpt.

Did you always want to be an actor?

No, I was not decided to it from before. I belong to a simple, middle-class family. There was never a tradition of acting in our family. I had acted in plays in school and college. I was in Pune till 10th standard, then came to Ahmednagar for 11th and 12th and then returned to Pune. After college, I started my own business. 

But I had that keeda of performing arts. One day, I read [Satyadev] Dubey ji’s advertisement for a workshop. I did a couple of workshops with him and formed my own experimental theatre group, Samanvay with [actors] Sandesh Kulkarni and Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, television actress Sonali V Kulkarni and Amruta Subhash. But even at that time I had not decided to become a full time actor. I wanted to become a director. 

So how did you get into films?

In between [director] Nachiket Patwardhan, who was organizing one of our plays, said that he is making a film called Devi Ahilya Bai (2002) and asked if we would like to join the crew. So, we became assistant directors for him. Then I assisted [writer] Shrirang Godbole for a TV serial. I did a couple of films as an assistant director – The Hangman (2010) and Bagh Haat Dakhvun (2005) – with my friend Vishal Bhandari, who is sadly no more. 

While I was working on a play, I got a call from a casting director, Sanjay Verma, for a Vishal Bhardwaj movie. I bluntly said I won’t give any audition. But later on I realized I was wrong. So I asked the person and came to know it is for a character in his next film [Kaminey]. I said I don’t work much as an actor. But the person said few people have suggested my name. He said I should be clean shaven and my shirt should be in during the auditions. I said I am not going to do any such thing. 

In a still from Ringan

Actually, that day I had a play at 12:30pm in Pune. And that morning [playwright] Vijay Tendulkar passed away. All this was going in my head. Then finally Verma called up in the evening and said that he is waiting only for me. We met and started chatting from around 8:30pm to about 10pm. Then Verma said I can leave. Confused, I asked, what about the audition? He said that my audition was done and he had shot me while I was speaking. He left for Mumbai and called me at 1:30am saying Vishal ji wants to meet me the next day. 

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Vishalji said that the character doesn’t have dialogues. He said it is up to me if I wish to play the part, but he felt I should [do it]. He said the more I improvise, it would look better. I agreed for the role for the improvisation part. This is how I started acting in films. Then I did a series of Marathi films like Lalbaug Parel (2010), Aaghaat (2010), Pangira (2011), etc. In all this, my ambition for direction had to be kept aside. I am working as an actor since then. 

Do you still desire directing a film?

Yes, I do. But I don’t know when I will do that. I am busy with acting. One needs to keep a year or more aside to direct a film, which I don’t know if I can afford right now. 

You were appreciated for your performance in Redu. Your co-star Chhaya Kadam told me that you weren’t able to even read Malwani (the language of the film) on the first day. But you mastered it with hard work. 

I have no connection with the Malwani language. I can speak languages spoken in west and south Maharashtra and the typical Marathi spoken in Mumbai. But Malwani was too difficult. When I read the script for the first time, I told [director] Sagar [Vanjari], ‘This is not possible for me. I can’t do it.’ He asked me to listen. I got the script read by Dhanraj Kadam.

The biggest help I received was Chhaya’s because she belongs to Kudal. You can know the language, but you might not know the little expressions like, ‘Chyaylaa.’ Chhaya helped me a lot in this. Then during the dubbing I made our music director Vijay Narayan Gavande, who is also from Kudal, sit with me. This is because both I and Sagar have no relation with Malwani. So, all these people made sure I did this. 

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I had gone and stayed in Malwan and neighbouring areas for five-six days. I got shorts and banian [vest], which was my character’s get-up, from there and I used to roam around in them. Then slowly while continuing to talk to people, I got the hang of it. 

With Chhaya Kadam in Redu

You have worked in big budget Hindi films like Kaminey, international film like Beyond The Clouds (2018) and also shoestring budgeted Marathi films. Did you experience the vast difference and does it affect you in any way?

If the script is good, these things don’t matter to me. I have seen the set-up of a Majid Majidi [Beyond The Clouds] film to a UTV film to a film where we had to even struggle for meals. At times I used to bring food from home. At the end of the day, your passion and approach are the most important aspects. 

At times, unfortunately, the approach of a director changes after his debut film. This is because for the next film they have become ‘directors.’ For the first film, they are makers; they have to passionately say something [through their films]. I have worked the most with new directors. Out of these 90% of the directors changed after their second film. They start looking at the money but they forget the reason why they are making films. 

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You have played some very good lead characters, like in Ringan and Redu. But you are not seen much in Hindi films.

The mathematics of both industries is different. For example, for Chillar Party (2011), the shoot went for a year and a half. But it’s not affordable for Marathi actors to not work anywhere else for one and a half years. They shot for a day and the next schedule happened after five months. I have to maintain my look, weight and other things during that period. Right now that is not affordable for me. My frequency of appearing in Marathi films is more because I only need to give around 35 days at a stretch.

You have played quite a few characters with negative or grey shades with a touch of humour. Looose Control (2018) and Maska (2018) are good examples. How challenging was it?

No character has only one shade in him. There is nothing like black or white; there are grey shades. I try and search an element of humanity in such characters from my side. There has to be some humanity in him somewhere.  Nilu bhau’s [late actor Nilu Phule] characters were such. He used to bring out humour in such characters. Even if he is playing a villain, he will have some human element. You connect with that side through humour. 

You have done films in different genres. What do you look at before saying yes to a project?

I look at the script. I don’t look much at other things. Many a times, there is no fun if the length of a role is long. For example, in Majid Majidi’s film I have only three of four sequences. But the character stays throughout the film. If the character is impactful, even if it is small one, it’s fun to do. This is a director and editor’s medium. No matter what you do, if they cut your role and keep only your voice-over, you can’t do anything [laughs]. 

Still from Ringan

What is your opinion on the kinds of Marathi films made these days?

It is a good sign to see the number of films made these days. Two years ago, Sairat (2016) was one of the few films of the year to do good business. But this year there are many films that have done well like Boyz (2017), Ye Re Ye Re Paisa (2018), Baban (2018), Aapla Manus (2018), Nude (2018), Maska (2018), etc.

To ensure that the business of Marathi films increases, the percentage of Hindi films should decrease. For example, why will I spend Rs100-150 to watch Shashank Shende when I can see Salman Khan? We keep giving examples of how well south Indian films do. This can happen in Marathi too. If we limit the release of films of other languages, like they do in south, it will benefit us. 

But right now we still have three or at times four films releasing on the same day...

This should continue. For example, the audience for Bucket List (2018) and Maska can never be the same. The same can be said for the audience of Farzand (2018) and Maska. So, let the films keep coming. We have crores of Marathi people. Even if two crore of them watch Marathi films in theatre, the business will zoom upwards. Right now the number is under 20 lakh. Let the competition increase. 

For example, on Laxmi Road in Pune you will find around 100 cloth shops since years. Why has this continued? Why didn’t someone start selling bhajji or open a plumbing shop? Because that business does well there. Apply the same logic here. These are my views. The views of others might be different.