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Interview Marathi

Ani... Dr Kashinath Ghanekar celebrates the amazing subculture of Marathi theatre: Director Abhijeet Deshpande

First-time filmmaker Abhijeet Deshpande speaks about his research process, his fascination for history and dislike for the current era, and why competition with Thugs Of Hindostan does not worry him.

Keyur Seta

Biopics have become a regular genre in Hindi cinema and now interest is picking up in Marathi cinema as well.

Almost all recent biopics in Hindi have tended to glorify their subjects. But first-time director Abhijeet Shirish Deshpande assured Cinestaan.com in an earlier interaction that his film Ani... Dr Kashinath Ghanekar will be a bold biopic.

The promos of the film, which stars Subodh Bhave as the late stage and film star, have lived up to the promise.

The filmmaker spoke at some length about his research process, his fascination for history and dislike for the current era, and why competition with Thugs Of Hindostan, which is being released on the same day as his film, does not faze him. Excerpts:

The research process must have been taxing. How did you go about it?

Yes, it was. Like what I do is I don’t finish the research and then do the writing. For me, a bit of research happens first; very little and basic. Then I start my writing process. And then my research continues in the background. When you start writing, what happens is that you develop a certain take, like what you want to [show] and what is your take on the person. It’s not a documentary where you show this, this, this and then he dies.

It’s like what I want to say about Kashinath Ghanekar. Once that happens, the research starts filling this particular vision of mine. I keep searching in that direction. Like I wanted to show the first superstar of Marathi theatre. So, automatically the information I am seeking is to enhance the premise of mine. For example, what all he did and how people reacted. Then I got a complete pallet of madness amongst the audience of stardom. 

Subodh Bhave as Dr Kashinath Ghanekar

You must have spoken to a lot of people. 

I spoke to a lot of people, especially his second wife Kanchan Kashinath Ghanekar.

She has written a book on him.

Yes, she has. That book was also helpful in a certain way. It [the film] is not an adaptation of the book, obviously because that’s a completely different thing. But that book gave me a certain timeline and the graph of his life. It helped me understand him as a person. I hadn’t known him. And most of the people with whom he used to hang around are dead or too old to talk.

I spoke to one gentleman called Mr Bal Kudtarkar. He was the first star of radio. He is 94. He has had lunches and dinners with Gandhi and Ambedkar. So, he has lived through that whole era.

He was Ghanekar’s friend. I called him around two or three years ago. I said I want to talk to you for 15-20 minutes. I thought he is very old; I can’t disturb him. I went there with my assistant and I was there for six hours! He just couldn’t stop talking. He gave me a lot of info which is fascinating about that man.

You had written Natsamrat (2016), which was also based on a theatre actor. How much did that prove to be useful while writing and making this film?

Not at all. Because Natsamrat was not a film about theatre. It was about a retired theatre actor. It was very cathartic. Kashinath Ghanekar is very celebratory. It will celebrate super-stardom. Most importantly, this is the first time a film will chronicle the amazing subculture of Marathi theatre.

So far you have seen theatre from the front. I will show it to you from a different side. Like, what happens before an actor makes an entry [on stage], how do readings happen, what happens in the make-up rooms, conversations that take place there, about the chai breaks, etc. 

It’s a completely different universe which I am creating. It’s the only theatre in the world where three shows used to happen in a day and that too on weekdays. They used to be houseful. It made me think how many stories must be hidden in such a universe. People used to dress up to watch plays. There was no TV then.

Kashinath Ghanekar was also a trained dentist. How challenging was it to decide what to include and what not to in the story?

It was very challenging. That was the most difficult task. It has been five years since I started writing the film. When you spend that much time writing or imagining something, naturally you develop a certain instinct for what to keep and what not to. It just happens.

This is your directorial debut where you are handling a difficult and challenging subject.

It was challenging for sure. But there are two ways of looking at it. One is that I have nothing to lose because people don’t know me. Every time people talk about Abhijeet Deshpande in the industry, they talk about the editor [of the same name]. Sometimes, some invites meant for me reach him. He is a sweet guy.

At the most I will make a bad film. I don’t have a baggage of reputation. My reputation will be made by this film. So, I was taking all bold calls.

Did you always want to make your directorial debut with this subject?

No, I wanted to make [a fllm on] some other subject some six years back. When I got frustrated with writing, I realized that the stories I wish to tell aren’t coming out. So, I took a call five or six years ago that I cannot be writing and having a good house and see my work on screen. So, I had to become a director. Only then will I have more creative control over my content. That subject is still there. I might do it as my second or third [film]. But that’s even bigger than this. It’s also set in history. That’s a war film.

Are you fascinated by history?

Completely. I think this era is very boring. I don’t like this era. The earlier era was very unapologetic and bindaas [bold]. For example, if two actors hated each other, they would say it in the press.

In our film, we have shown Kashinath Ghanekar’s rivalry with another actor [Dr Shriram Lagoo]. It was open rivalry. Not like today’s era where people keep saying, ‘Bro bro bro.’ The gloves were off. I like those kind of relationships. I like you means I like you. Everything was intense; even hatred. Love was also intense. That’s why I feel history is beautiful. It’s not chronicled well in India.

Sumeet Raghvan as Dr Shriram Lagoo

How challenging was it to bring such an ensemble cast together?

It was a challenge to get such a big cast and personalities on board. But it is eventually the content because people don’t know me. Why would they want to work in a first-timer’s film? Also, we shot for like 51 days. In Marathi, one can make a trilogy in 51 days. A friend asked how many days we shot and when I disclosed, he joked, ‘Are you making Mughal-e-Azam?’ But we did because of the scale of the film and what we wanted to say.

The challenge was to not make it look like beautiful paintings or sculptures which are brought in a room. Then there is no aesthetic to it. We have taken care that it should look like a complete canvas and should be the most brilliant film of these brilliant actors and it should be their best work. That was my motto. 

Did you always want to get into films?

No. I have done my MBA in marketing. I was working in an advertising firm, where I met Rensil D’Silva. He had written Aks (2001) at that time and he was writing Rang De Basanti (2006).

Aks was the first script I read. I was always interested in writing. My essays were always good. After reading the script, I felt I can do it. That was the first time I had touched a script. I felt as if he had given me the Upanishads. I left my job and went to FTII [the Film and Television Institute of India]. Then my struggle started and it’s going on.

What is your opinion on the current state of Marathi cinema?

It is not in the best of shape. There are many factors. I have said this quite a few times that you are not treating your writers well. The problem is in Hindi as well. But there, lately, they are slowly getting their due. But in Marathi there is no recognition for writers. Marathi comes from literature, so the stories are good. But they lag behind in craft. 

We as content makers are not making good films. Whenever someone points to our numbers or statistics, we always reply saying Sairat (2016) and Natsamrat (2016) did so well.

Your film is being released on the same day as Thugs Of Hindostan, which is a huge film.

It is a huge film, but today there is space for every film. Some films compete on the basis of their marketing muscle, some on the basis of content. We have both in the form of Viacom. We are making a film on a darling of the Marathi masses. So, people would love to know what a fascinating life he lived. So, I am not scared at all. I am looking forward to it.