Interview Marathi

Got the idea of making films on Maratha history in junior college, says Digpal Lanjekar

Last month's release Pawankhind is the third film in Lanjekar's series of action dramas from 17th century Maratha history after Farzand (2018) and Fatteshikast (2019).

Suyog Zore

Digpal Lanjekar's historical action drama Pawankhind (2022) was released in theatres last month after a wait of nearly two years. The third in Lanjekar's series of action dramas from 17th century Maratha history tracks the key battle at Ghodkhind (Horse Pass) during the siege of Panhala fort near Kolhapur in modern-day Maharashtra in 1660.

The battle is mostly known for Baji Prabhu Deshpande's valour, as the general, with a small detachment of Maratha soldiers, held a large Adilshahi force of nearly 10,000 soldiers at bay, not allowing them to cross the narrow pass until their king Shivaji had made it to the safety of Vishalgad. But few know who these soldiers were, and through his film Lanjekar wanted to highlight their valour.

"Along with Baji Prabhu Deshpande, we have tried to bring to light some unsung heroes like Shiva Kashid, the Bandal army and many such people," Lanjekar told in an exclusive conversation before the film's release. "There is not much information available about them anywhere. We were only told about Baji Prabhu, but who were those 300 soldiers who happily agreed to die for their king?"

The film was shot on location in some tough terrain. "Of my three films so far, Pawankhind was definitely the most difficult to shoot," the director said. "First of all, it had a bigger canvas than the first two films. Also, it had more action scenes. We shot  those action sequences in tough terrain near Rajgad fort. It is the natural habitat of snakes, so we had to hire snake catchers and doctors till the shoot was completed. We also bought some anti-venom injections, because most of these snakes are venomous. So we had to be prepared, just in case something went wrong."

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Lanjekar revealed one such thrilling incident from the shoot. "We were shooting a scene with Chinmay Mandlekar [who plays Shivaji in these historical films]. And just behind him was a big rock. As we began the shoot we realized there was a six-foot-long cobra behind that rock. The snake catchers who were on set at the time told us that if any of us got bitten, our chances of survival would have been zero. But we went ahead with the shoot for the whole day, without disturbing the cobra, of course. Because we had limited days and needed to complete the scene that day."

Lanjekar's decision to shoot on location also created problems in post-production. "The biggest issue we faced related to the sound," he said. "Sound plays a very important role in taking you into that world. Today's sound is polluted. There are many elements in today's sound that are not suitable for that period, such as [automobile] horns. So we had to find each and every audio and visual element that doesn't match with that period and remove it in post-production." A time-consuming effort indeed.

Marathi films generally don't get big budgets and this becomes a roadblock, especially for historical action films which require a lot of money. "We have a limited territory," said Lanjekar. "Unlike Hindi and some other regional films, we rarely get a chance to release our films outside Maharashtra. Hindi and some Southern industries have created markets all over India and even outside. So even if our producers are ready to spend more, it's our duty as filmmakers to make sure we don't take undue advantage of their generosity.

"Making a film on a limited budget without ever making it obvious to the audience is the biggest challenge in making historical films," he continued. "While watching the film, the audience shouldn't feel that the film would have turned out better if only the filmmaker had more money. It's your responsibility to make sure this doesn't happen."

Lanjekar has been working with the same set of artistes, casting them in different roles in each of his films. Like Ankit Mohan, who played the titular role in Farzand (2018), Yesaji Kank in Fatteshikast (2019) and Yeyajirao Bandal in Pawankhind. Asked why he keeps using the same artistes in different roles, Lanjekar said, "You can say I find suitable faces for these roles in this team. We have been together for the last five or six years and I enjoy working with them, so most of the time I prefer to work with the same people again."

Lanjekar has already announced that he plans to make at least eight films on incidents from the life of the Maratha king Shivaji. Asked how he got the idea of creating this Maratha cinematic universe, he said, "I first came up with this idea when I was in junior college, in the eleventh standard. I had already decided which were the stories I wanted to make films on. And when I got the opportunity to enter the film world, I began working to fulfil my dream of creating this Maratha film universe. And by Shivaji Maharaj's grace, everything is going smoothly till now."