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Interview Marathi

Baji Prabhu Deshpande is a dream role for me, says Ajay Purkar

The actor had to put on weight and learn how to wield the gauntlet sword to prepare for the role in Pawankhind.

Suyog Zore

Digpal Lanjekar's historical epic Pawankhind has set the box office on fire. The historical epic, third in Lanjekar's series of films based on 17th century Maratha history after Farzand (2018) and Fatteshikast (2019),.amassed Rs6.50 crore on its first weekend.

Pawankhind sees Ajay Purkar play the role of Maratha general Baji Prabhu Deshpande, who, with a small band of warriors, held at bay a large Bijapuri force of 10,000 troops led by Siddi Jauhar at Ghodkhind so that Shivaji, who had escaped from a seige at Panhala fort, could make it safely to Vishalgad.

In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com ahead of the film's release last week, Purkar shared the experience of working on Pawankhind and the challenges he faced to portray the iconic role.

"I was surprised when Digpal asked me to play Baji Prabhu Deshpande's role," Purkar said. "It's a dream role for me. At a press conference many years ago, I had confessed that I would like to play Baji Prabhu Deshpande. And here, after so many years, I was finally getting the chance to fulfil my dream. It was surreal."

The film was shot and completed two years ago, but like many other big-budget films its release was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have been waiting for the release for almost two years now," Purkar said. "It was frustrating for the cast and crew, especially when you have put so much effort into a project and are eager to see the audience's reaction.

"Hats off to our producers that they decided to wait for two years instead of going for an OTT release. I'm sure it must have been a very tough decision for them. First, invest Rs5–6 crore, then wait for another two years and even then you are not sure if you will recover the money you have invested in the project. We are grateful to have had the backing of such producers."

About the response to the film's trailer, Purkar said, "The response has been stupendous. Within a week it had almost five million views which is a big number for a Marathi film. This proves that the Marathi audience is eagerly waiting for our film. This film was an emotional and profound experience for all of us. We all have many fond memories from the shoot."

About his preparation for the role, Purkar said, "It was mostly physical. First of all, I had to put on a lot of weight to look like Baji Prabhu Deshpande. People who have gained significant weight in a short time will know that once you gain weight, your body becomes stiff. But for my role, I also needed to have agility and fluidity because I had to perform all those action scenes. And we didn't hire any body doubles, so everything you see on screen is performed by the actors.

"It was very taxing physically because the entire battle plays a significant role in the film. The climax sequence in Pawankhind lasts almost 40 minutes. If it had been for a short duration, we might have got away with not giving of our best, but since it plays such a huge role in the film, we didn't have any option but to go all out. It was a tough task because I also had to learn the various fighting skills. According to history, Baji Prabhu was a skilled swordsman, so I had to work on that."

Apart from the physical training, Prukar had to keep in mind Baji Prabhu's age as well. "He was 55 years old at the time [of the Pawankhind battle]. So I had to learn how the body language of a 55-year-old who has been through his fair share of problems and seen many atrocities would be. And how he would react when he finally gets a chance to release all his pent-up anger. I had to think of all these things while shooting those war sequences."

The film has mostly been shot on location, which created its own problems. "We shot the whole film in one schedule in 35 days, so we had to make sure we were completing the shoot in the given time," Purkar said.."Also, we had to show the rain, so we had called in the rain machines. Which made things even more difficult for us. It's not easy to remember and perform the fight choreography amidst all the chaos and rain! And because it was natural terrain and not a studio, it made things even more complicated. Because we were shooting in the rain, the whole ground became slippery, so while performing our battle scenes, we also had to make sure nobody slips and gets hurt accidentally."

Legend has it that Baji Prabhu Deshpande was a master with the dandpatta (gauntlet sword). And Purkar had to undergo special training in the art. "Because I was also part of Farzand (2018) and Fatteshikhast (2021), I was quite familiar with other fighting techniques and skills, so the only thing I needed to learn [from scratch] was how to use the dandpatta," the actor said. "I took special classes under Pradyut Kondharkar and Monika Kolte."

Generally when actors take on a historical role, they prefer to do their own research and read about the historical figure they are playing, but Purkar didn't feel any such need. "Frankly we have all heard this story so many times that there is no need to read anything else," he said. "Also I had complete trust in Digpal and his script. He has spent years researching and then penned these scripts, so there is no need for me to read something else. His script was enough."