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Interview Hindi Marathi

OTT is bringing in fabulous storytelling, says Sonali Kulkarni

The actress, who is charting new territories with SonyLIV's The Whistleblower, speaks about her journey so far, the digital experience and the future.

File photo

Shriram Iyengar

For someone who has been on stage, television and the cinema screen for such a long time to call herself a newcomer feels modest. Sonali Kulkarni does bring the adjective to mind when she explains her exploration of the digital medium. The actress is part of Manoj Pillai's investigative drama series, The Whistleblower, which was premiered on SonyLIV on 11 December 2021.

"I don't know how far my experience allows me to say that. I am still new to the medium," she says, "I feel OTT is certainly bringing in fabulous storytelling."

The actress plays news journalist Zainab Parkar who becomes the medium to tell an explosive story of corruption spread across medical institutions in the country. Gripping, detailed, the series is worth a watch, with Kulkarni's character taking centre stage towards the latter half.

Describing the series, she said, "When I heard the entire show, a lot of research had gone in, I had no other thought in my mind but to start the show as soon as possible."

With Samit Kakkad's Dharavi Bank, and the second season of the Voot Select series Crackdown, the actress seems to have strapped in for a longer run in the 'new' medium.

"I am ready for web shows and I welcome them," she said. "I certainly am looking forward [to working on more]." Excerpts from the interview:

The Whistleblower looks like a fascinating crime drama. How did you come into the project?

I was approached by the team. Manoj Pillai narrated the story to me. The only thought which came to my mind was I am so lucky. Any actor would die to play my character, Zainab Parkar. She is a committed journalist, someone who believes in standing by her story.

When I heard the entire show, a lot of research had gone in, I had no other thought in my mind but to start the show as soon as possible.

The actress as Zainab Parkar in The Whistleblower

While investigative dramas do require time and space to unravel, OTT platforms seem to have offered that to writers, storytellers and artistes to explore. It must be an exciting experience for you as well.

I don't know how far my experience allows me to say that. I am still new to the medium. [But] I feel OTT is certainly bringing in fabulous storytelling. It does not fear having difficult characters. It does not have the same hero-heroine, best friend, family syndrome. OTT is talking about people, all of us. It is quite heartwarming.

I feel optimistic about the medium. It has given work to so many actors, technicians, actors from a varied age group. What I have seen in OTT is that you have a time span of three films. We are talking about a trilogy for one story. The filmmaker/storyteller has nothing to complain about but a lot to explore.

Writers and directors often complain that you have to let go of plots, scenes because you don't have that much time and footage to invest in cinema. In web shows you do. It is a dream for any faculty, except the editor and director (laughs).

OTT platforms do offer a lot of opportunities for artistes to explore characters as well.

This is, in many ways, my first web-series. I did work on Mumbai Diaries (2021), but that was a short role. My answers are as fresh as a newcomer, possibly. I did get to stay with my character longer because one is not in a hurry to impress the audience. You are not desperate. You are at ease because you can see the progression to my character, in the show itself.

As an actor, you are paid to understand the progression. There is no hurry to work on one particular scene. It gives you the liberty to explore and experiment quite a lot. You are no more coming out with insecurities to outshine your co-actors.

I must talk about my director, Manoj Pillai. He had such a wonderful grip over the story that every time we had any question, Manoj would take a quick overview in his mind. He would come up with a suggestion immediately. I feel these shows are a fabulous workshop. Actors can collaborate with writers and directors for longer, build your character with more ease and strength.

You also have Dharavi Bank with Samit Kakkad and the second season of Crackdown lined up. It seems you are interested in the medium and the journey ahead.

I certainly am, because the lockdown has taught us. If I may call myself courageous, I have done 65 or 70 ad films and been doing theatre simultaneously. I don't apologize for doing theatre, and my directors have supported it. I have worked in regional and international cinema, working with newcomers. I am ready for web shows and I welcome them.

When television gave way during the lockdown, it was OTTs which helped actors survive. I am grateful for kids, senior citizens who relied on these platforms. They will last longer because we are seeing a technical presence which is one-of-its-kind.

Is that recommended for every artiste? To branch out, explore new mediums?

It is a personal choice. Not every actor would like it. Some people are not comfortable working in theatre. I forgot to mention short films. Some people are not comfortable working in that medium.

I have come a long way now. I have gone through my bit of jealousy and complaining about actors, trying to blame someone. I have come to a point in my career where I have realized it takes its own journey. Even if you are the son or daughter of the biggest star, you will get the initial films, but you can't blame the entire career on their opportunity.

I had the privilege of my parents being Mr and Mrs Kulkarni from Pune, who had the willingness to support me. I don't want to complain and blame someone for being more fortunate than me. I don't want to do that.

I don't think other actors should follow what I did, or I should follow what they did.

You are also working with Rasika Agashe on her directorial debut. A familiar name from the world of theatre, she is making her directorial debut with Ticha Shahar Hona. How did you come to be part of it?

That project was with me for three years. It was written by someone who is really special to me. She was a fan and wanted a signature. I thought it was quaint and told her maybe she could write something. She was a graphic designer and wrote a story and sent it to me. To my surprise, I liked it. For three years, I was looking for a director, producer. Then Rasika stepped in as co-writer and finally decided to take the plunge to direct.

We are done with the technical work and dubbing patchwork, and it will come out very soon.

What else does the future hold for you?

There is the film called Sitara by Vandana Kataria, and I am working on a film called Short And Sweet, which is in the making and will be ready next year.

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