Interview Marathi

Dithee teaches us how to cope with life itself, says Girish Kulkarni

Kulkarni, who plays a small farmer in Sumitra Bhave's last film, discusses its making, release and message.

Suyog Zore

In Sumitra Bhave's swansong Dithee (2021), Girish Kulkarni plays a small farmer, a character very different from the negative roles the National award-winning actor and writer has become known for playing in Hindi films and web-series.

From his impressive debut in Valu (2008) and his National award-winning performance in Deool (2011) to the scheming coach in Aamir Khan's superhit Dangal (2016) and the corrupt politician in the popular Netflix show Sacred Games, Kulkarni has played a variety of roles in his career, impressing audiences and critics alike.

Ahead of the release of Dithee on the SonyLIV platform on Friday 21 May, Kulkarni spoke to about his role in the film and the experience of working with the late filmmaker Bhave. Excerpts:

Dithee review: Visually breathtaking story of loss, grief and healing

Though the trailer doesn't reveal much, it looks like Dithee is about dealing with the grief of losing a loved one. What can you tell us about the film?

It's not only pertaining to that aspect of life, it's more about life and understanding life as a whole and gaining a perspective about it. How to look at life, its joys and sorrows.

The word 'dithee' comes from Sant Dnyaneshwar's Dnyaneshwari and DB Mokashi, the writer [of the short story on which the film is based], has derived it from there. The film is not just about how to cope with loss; it also teaches us how to cope with life itself.

What can you tell us about your role? What kind of preparation did you have to undertake to perform this role?

My character is a small farmer in a village. He is a guy with a pure, childlike innocence in him, which is rare to find these days. That's why he is also very curious about things in life. He doesn't hesitate to ask questions. He is someone who is always interested to learn something.

For the preparation, Sumitra maushi would always guide her artistes with simple, to-the-point instructions and suggestions. She would define the characters in such a way that it would become quite easy for us to perform. She was a guiding force for all of us.

Sumitra Bhave

This was Bhave's first solo film as director and, unfortunately, her last as well. What was the experience of working with her like?

Working with Sumitra maushi has always been a delight. I faced a movie camera for the first time under her direction, so our association goes back a long way.

I have learned many things from her, not just about filmmaking, but about life also. Working with her was a joy. She was a well-read, well-travelled person. She was also a social scientist, so there would be lots of discussion on various topics. It was an enriching experience for me.

We also had a wonderful cast of experienced artistes. We were stationed in a small village. There used to be heavy downpours while we were shooting. We enjoyed the entire process a lot. It's such a beautiful memory in my life.

The Warkari [annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur] tradition seems to play an important part in the film.

The Warkari tradition is pretty common in Maharashtra. Every village has that tradition. But it has a layer in our film. It provides a layer that despite my search and quest, I'm yet to know what is life. The story sets out with this question and finally gets resolution.

The film was made in 2018 and it took three years to finally get a release. What goes on in an actor's mind when you know you are part of a really good project, but it's not being released for reasons beyond your control?

Frustration, anger, disappointment. Because such beautiful, well-made films should get proper release. They should reach their target audiences. Unfortunately, film has a wonderful string of business attached to it, and every time that string gets pulled by someone who hardly understands cinema, or maybe understands it but has their own compulsions towards art, things become complicated. But thanks to the rise of OTT platforms, there is an audience for such films. Everything comes at the right time, so this might be the right time for Dithee.

Mohan Agashe, Girish Kulkarni and Dilip Prabhavalkar in Dithee

It seems the film also talks about one's relationship with god and how it gets tested in difficult times.

You can say it's about one's relationship with mother nature. it's about understanding your role in the whole gamut of things. In nature, some decay will happen and some birth will take place, but you need to understand your role in this cycle.

If something happens that is beyond the comprehension of us humans, we often credit it to god. We should not blame or credit god. We have to just acknowledge his presence, if at all it is there, and our role in the whole scheme of things. That's what Dithee tells us.

In the first few years of your acting career, you played naive-village-lad roles, but of late you have been playing roles with negative shades. How did that shift happen? Did you get bored of playing the simple lad?

I allow myself to flow with the tide. Whatever roles come my way, I try to choose the ones which will challenge me the most. I look for characters which are completely different from Girish Kulkarni as a person. I'm not this fellow, so it would be difficult to understand his psyche and get under his skin, that's the main criterion.

In Dithee also, my character has such innocence that I don't have. That's why I got lured to play this role. It's a quest to understand myself, whether I have those facets that my characters put forth.

Negative characters like the coach in Dangal, or Appa from Faster Fene (2017), always intrigue me. I used to wonder how anyone can be this evil. And to play these characters with conviction was challenging for me.

Somehow I happen to select such roles. There is no perfect design as such or process behind it. It's just my quest to understand myself and life. And acting is a way I find myself going further in that journey. Hence I act and write. It's beyond money, career or any achievement.

Incidentally, Dithee also talks about the same kind of quest. This COVID[-19 pandemic] has taught us that we need to talk to ourselves, understand what exactly we want from life. All those questions have been lingering in my mind. So every opportunity that comes my way is looked upon from that perspective. And that's how I choose these kinds of different roles which allow me to be a better human being.

Amar Apte of Pune 52 (2013) has been my favourite role of yours. When can we see you again in such a serious anti-hero kind of role?

It's also my most favourite role. I also wish to play such characters, but people have to cast me in such roles. Directors have to take notice of that. Obviously, [writer-director] Nikhil [Mahajan] is after my life to make a sort of sequel to that film. He wants me to write it, but I'm not able to finish it somehow.

Acting is a very dependent job. Some director or writer should imagine you in a particular role and then cast you. Creating that kind of compulsion on these lads is a different thing though. But I'm waiting for such a role. Who knows, there could be something better than that!

It's almost five years now since Jaundya Na Balasaheb (2016) was released. When do we see you don the director's hat again?

I want to direct, but my problem is I'm a very lazy person. Lazy in the sense that I get fatigued by the post-production. The editing, sound design, all these things are really gruesome for me. I can't keep patience during that phase. I get restless. And for a director, patience is a great virtue. He has to be with that project for years. I used to get extremely bored watching myself during the edit. That was really hectic. One thing I'm very sure of is that whenever I direct my next film, I won't be acting in it.

And when do we see you collaborate with Umesh Kulkarni again?

We keep planning to do so intermittently. We had written a biographical film on [the late actor-filmmaker] Dada Kondke. I even wrote the script, but the makers all of a sudden had different ideas and dropped us from the project. That's how we lost a couple of years. But we will work together for sure.

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