Interview Marathi

Sonalee Kulkarni approached me with Hirkani and I instantly agreed, says director Prasad Oak

The actor-filmmaker shares insights into the making of Hirkani and also looks back at his journey in Marathi cinema.

Keyur Seta

Prasad Oak has been known as a versatile artiste ever since he made his acting debut nearly 15 years ago. Two years ago, he also showed what a terrific director he is with Kaccha Limbu (2017), which won the National award for Best Feature Film in Marathi. But not many may know that Oak first came to Mumbai to become a filmmaker, not an actor.

Oak has now grabbed another opportunity to showcase his directorial skills with Hirkani. The film tells the story of a mother of that name, played by Sonalee Kulkarni in the film, who made a hazardous descent from Shivaji's Raigad fort after the gates shut for the night and she was stranded, with her infant waiting to be fed at their home in a village at the foothills. 

In an exclusive conversation with, Prasad Oak explains how the project came to him and also looks back at his journey in Marathi cinema which has brought many pleasant surprises along the way. Excerpts:

Who thought about a film on Hirkani and when?

Pratap Gangavane has written the story. He once met Sonalee [Kulkarni] when she was shooting for Ajintha (2012). At that time he told her there should be a film on Hirkani and you should play that character. She agreed but it was all casual. After a few years he approached her again and said he had written the story for Hirkani. She liked the story and felt that I should direct it. So, she approached me and asked if I would like to direct it. 

And what was your reaction?

Actually after Kaccha Limbu won the National award, I felt that I should do a film of a different genre, which I wasn’t finding. I spent 8–10 months searching for a subject. I wanted to do something different and not typical. I was searching for a grander subject but wasn’t finding it. 

Sonalee Kulkarni during the launch of Hirkani in Pune

Then Sonalee came and asked me about Hirkani. I said fantastic! It was like aandhala maagto ek dola, dev deto don [a blind man seeks one eye and god obliges him with two]. I agreed! Then I and Chinmay [Mandlekar] developed it. 

How challenging was it to develop the script around a true story? How did you do your research?

It was challenging, no doubt. We had to research a lot. Actually we took our entire unit to Pashchim Kada [the Western Cliff at Raigad] which is now called Hirkani Buruj [Hirkani Bastion]. We also took all HoDs [heads of department] there. Even Sonalee was there. This was just to get a feel at what height we will be shooting at. This could also enable us to imagine the hurdles that she [Hirkani] would have faced and overcome. 

One is often compelled to take certain creative liberties in a feature film based on real incidents or characters.

We have only taken liberties in places where we had to dramatize something. But we haven’t gone off-track and shown something fictional. 

How was it to handle a true story for the first time as a director?

It was challenging and there was also a lot to learn. Kaccha Limbu was a content-orientated film. It had Sachin Khedekar, Sonali [Kulkarni], Ravi Jadhav and Anant Mahadevan. So the casting was very strong. But in this film the thing was that there is only Sonalee [as the main character] and nobody else. 

So, because of that, I decided to include the 'Shivrajyabhishek Geet' [Shivaji's coronation song] and took nine stars for it. In that way I have balanced the star value. Hence, if we don’t have any of them in the movie later, you can still see people like [television star] Rajashri Thakur, Makrand Deshpande and others. And there is another surprise in the film which people will get to know when the film is released. 

Are you referring to the actor who plays Shivaji?

Yes, we haven’t opened that secret.

What is the reason for keeping it secret?

It is because the film is such. In the film, Hirkani isn’t able to see Shivaji till the end. So, even the audience doesn’t get to see and hence we don’t show him.

You started off with plays, then serials, before turning to films as an actor. In between you were also recognized for your singing. Of course, you have now turned towards direction. How do you look at your journey?

Basically I came to Mumbai to become a director. I didn’t come here to become an actor. The first award I got was as a singer in Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Ajinkyatara. Life takes you anywhere with its turns and twists. I feel one should keep doing honestly whatever one gets to do. 

Are you thinking of focusing on singing in the future?

No, I am not. That was just a hobby. It was an actors’ singing competition. Singing is not my profession, it’s my passion. But I keep doing playback singing here and there. Like I sang for Deool Band (2015).

As an actor you have done serious films and also a madcap comedy like Ye Re Ye Re Paisa 2 (2019). What exactly are your criteria for signing films?

I have three criteria basically. First, I should get satisfaction from the film. Or I should get good money. Else the film should have been made by one of my friends. I use permutations and combinations of these factors. 

So, if a film is not satisfying and doesn’t offer good money but a friend is making it, then I will do it. But if there is no satisfaction and the person making it is not my friend, then I should at least get good money. If I am getting very good money and the film is made by a friend, then there is no problem. But my thought is clear as to why I am doing a film.

What is your take on the current Marathi cinema and the types of films being made?

I am very happy. People are doing different types of experimentation and it is getting good response as well. The only thing we need is to divert Marathi audiences towards us. They should give priority to Marathi films and only then to Hindi. To create such a mentality for the audience, we will do as much as we can. 

Hirkani is being released on 24 October. That week, three Hindi films, including Housefull 4, are also being released.

There is no need for us to feel scared because the audiences for Hirkani and Housefull 4 are hugely different. Those who love history and Shivaji will give first preference to Hirkani.