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Interview Marathi

The game is turning your limitations into your strengths, says actor Lalit Prabhakar

With his latest film, Zombivli, being released on Republic Day, the actor speaks on the trick Marathi cinema needs to perfect to outdo the much larger Hindi film industry.

Shriram Iyengar

Marathi cinema has broken another barrier with its first zombie comedy, Zombivli (2022), being released yesterday. Actor Lalit Prabhakar does not find that surprising. He believes the post-pandemic scenario will force filmmakers to create newer, more innovative cinema to lure audiences back into the theatres.

As an actor who has been part of films like Anandi Gopal (2019) and series like The Raikar Case (2020) and Shantit Kranti (2021), Lalit Prabhakar knows something of the need to adapt and of the change arriving on different media. Featuring in a zombie comedy shot during the pandemic is one such attempt, he pointed out.

"The lockdown has exposed the audience to a wide range of stories from different countries, different web-series and formats," he said. "You may not always be able to compete with them on scale. For instance, we cannot make an Avengers. It is a budget issue; it is not a thought-level issue."

Zombivli arrived in a period of lull for Hindi cinema. With no Hindi films being released in theatres, Marathi cinema has stepped up to fill the gap. Often underrated in the shadow of the much larger industry, Marathi cinema is slowly finding its way back with creative stories.

Prabhakar, however, believes it is a two-way street. The actor said that while it is the responsibility of filmmakers to come up with content to match the Hindi industry, it also becomes the responsibility of the audience to support such efforts.

With a busy 2022 lined up, Prabhakar seemed confident that the fear of the pandemic would eventually fade away, offering him the chance to experiment with more radical characters. "This is the only art form where you get to examine yourself through your work," he said. "Unless you do it, you will never know. I need to find out how much I can or cannot do." Excerpts:

Zombivli went on the floors in July 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and found its way to theatres only in 2022. There must have been some anxiety with a film stuck in such uncertain times.

Doubts, perhaps, yes. This was an experiment, from the subject to its execution, the situation around us, and how it was playing out, things were very uncertain So there were doubts, but there was hope, since this subject, the effort and the preparation was a hopeful process. 

What gave you hope about this project, since oftentimes conception and execution can have tonnes going wrong along the way?

Our confidence stemmed from Aditya Sarpotdar. With his earlier work and films, he showed that he never compromised on the scale. Secondly, there were some questions about how we are going to show zombies. The make-up team plays a key role in this. Who will handle the camera to create this look? Yet, there was an intuition that this will turn out well.

In the end, we have to give the best we can. The way the script was shaping up and our characters were forming, I completely loved the little aspects of my character, which made me excited about when the project will come on to the screen. These things gave us confidence about the project. Later, when we saw the look test, we began to understand the visual element.

The decision to shoot in the pandemic was a challenging one from a production point of view. But as an actor, where the process is much more interactive, was there a worry?

There was slight anxiety in the beginning. But as the days flow, the fear goes away. The external problems slowly fade out of focus and the production was working to take care of those things. Slowly, our focus shifted to work. A normal shooting process was set into place, except what we were shooting was not normal and was unique.

The pandemic has resulted in the rise of a vibrant and experimental facet of regional cinema. On OTTs and in theatres, films in regional Indian languages are experimenting with genres. What does that mean for Marathi cinema?

Of course, that is the key: what unique story are you telling, and how are you presenting it to the audience? The lockdown has exposed the audience to a wide range of stories from different countries, different web-series and formats. You may not always be able to compete with them on scale. For instance, we cannot make an Avengers. It is a budget issue. It is not a thought-level issue.

The game is whether you know what your limitations are, and how you use them as your strength. We need to do something different, and stop making copies of copies. Zombivli's strength lies in that.

Lalit Prabhakar, Vaidehi Parshurami, Amey Wagh at Zombivli trailer launch 

There is a deep connection between regional cinema and theatres. Will the slow decline of single-screens affect regional cinema? And how important is it to revive interest among theatre-going audiences?

It is a large topic to speak about, but in short, Maharashtra has two major powerhouse industries — Hindi and Marathi cinema. It is deeply embedded among us, so despite our will, sometimes, Marathi cinema is ignored. If you go down South, people have a primary preference for cinema in their language. It is not just the actors and filmmakers, but also the people who need to show some love for regional cinema.

The tickets for Marathi cinema are far cheaper compared to a Hollywood or Hindi film. I think it comes down to a constant conversation about Hindi cinema, the glamour, the scale of its films. It overpowers Marathi films. If the Hindi film industry had gone down South, they [the Southern industries] would have had the same problem.

I wouldn't say audiences should watch only Marathi cinema, but they should also watch Marathi cinema. We have a tradition of experimental, socially relevant cinema. It is only when audiences give us some support that producers can recover money. If they do, they will encourage more such experiments.

I do appreciate Yoodlee Films in that they tried to push the envelope with this film. They have made an attempt to back this very different project and so it becomes a responsibility of the viewing audience as well to support it. Maybe it will encourage others to back new projects.

From Anandi Gopal (2019) to Zombivli, you have shown an interest in different projects. How do you pick or prefer them?

Actually, I don't know. There is nothing certain about my picking choices. It is not just my character that fascinates me in a film, but the project as a whole. It is only when the project is interesting that I say yes. Even in that, I keep pushing for what I cannot do or what I would not like to do.

Films like Anandi Gopal or Zombivli started out as conscious and cautious choices. But slowly, I began to become these characters. Internally, these characters are different. This is the only art form where you get to examine yourself through your work. Unless you do it, you will never know. I need to find out how much I can or cannot do.

So, what else does 2022 hold for you?

There is quite a lot of cinema. Colourphool is a film with Sai Tamhankar which I am waiting for this year. Tarri is another film which will be released in theatres this year. Sunny is another film with Hemant Dhome which is a unique experiment. I have also done another project which will come on SonyLIV, Pet Puraan, with Sai Tamhankar. It's a completely different project and will be worth the wait.