Girish Kulkarni, Malayalam film, Thankam
Girish Kulkarni said he loves the kind of films Anurag Kashyap makes, a little more than Aamir Khan because he is unbelievably passionate about his works

It's very homely in Malayalam film industry: Marathi-Hindi actor Girish Kulkarni

In an exclusive interview, Kulkarni shares his idea of films, on working in the Malayalam film industry for the first time, and the atmosphere of distrust prevailing in contemporary India

Two-time national award winner actor-screenwriter Girish Kulkarni, who is best known for his significant roles in several Marathi films, as well as Bollywood films Dangal, Ugly, and the web series Sacred Games, is getting into south Indian films, through the upcoming Malayalam release, Thankam (Gold) directed by Saheed Arafath and written by Shyam Pushkaran.

Kulkarni, who has been active in the Marathi and Hindi industry for more than a decade, has won the national award for best actor and best screenwriter for the 2012 film, Deool, directed by Umesh Kulkarni. In the run up to his first south Indian release, (which will release on January 26), he speaks exclusively to The Federal, and shares his idea of films, filmmaking, on Malayalam cinema and the atmosphere of distrust prevailing in contemporary India.

In the film Thankam, he plays a cop from Maharashtra, who travels to the south to investigate a murder that happened in Mumbai.

Girish Kulkarni, Thankam
Girish Kulkarni has already essayed the role of a cop in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Ugly’. He also plays a cop in his debut Malayalam movie

Excerpts from the interview:

Thankam is a highly anticipated film, because of the writer’s reputation and the film’s trailer has already notched up millions of viewers. One of the dialogues, ‘We, the Maharashtra police is investigating a mallu murder case in Tamil Nadu’ – It could be about you as an actor too, right? So, what was it like, shooting for your first south film outside your comfort zone?

Yeah, Thankam is my first film in the south Indian industry. It was a complete joyride to shoot this Malayalam film. The team was excellent, the director Sahid Arafat, writer and one of the producers Shyam Pushkaran, co-actors like Biju Menon and all. Recently, Malayalam industry has been churning out beautiful work and we all have been watching it from a distance especially during the COVID-19 period. I was so curious about understanding how they worked.

Then it happened and I got the call from Bhavana Studios. I was so happy to receive that call. I had so many questions on my mind and was a little low on confidence as well because of the language barrier and I did not know the kind of work culture they practised and things like that. I landed here with a sort of actor’s insecurity, I would say. Then I got to meet people and it was wonderful. The process itself was very inspiring, a significant learning curve in my career.

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What is the significant difference you felt between Marathi cinema, Hindi film industry and the cinema of the south, especially Malayalam?

What I felt here is sort of basic calmness. It’s about creating a moment on the set and then filming that. So, everybody was allowed to explore the possibilities which are there in themselves and allow them to gel with each other, to synergise with everyone else and create that moment you need. There were very healthy discussions, in a very peaceful atmosphere.

In the Hindi industry, there is a hell of a lot of rush, I don’t know why, but there is this ‘professional’ attitude and you don’t feel like part of the whole thing many times. But here, it is a very homely affair. You can ask any question, you can try out different things if you want to and all that freedom is there and people are very open for discussion, for questioning and that’s really wonderful.

You have been donning the police uniform in several films, the most notable one being the character in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly. Now, you are playing another officer of the Maharashtra police, Jayanth Sakhalkar in Thankam. How different is this role from the previous one? How do you make it different?

You need to think about the thought process of the character – like how this Jayanth Sakhalkar thinks, how he responds to a stimulus. Actually, an actor has to mull over the very thought process of that particular character, if he or she could crack that.

The actor’s body remains the same for all the characters. Even if you put on different makeup, accessories and costumes, the change you can bring in will remain superficial. If you want to play a different human being, out of the same body, then you have to change your thought process. What I do is, try to make changes in my breathing rhythm for different characters.

Each and every person has a different breathing cycle or rhythm, by making tweaks in it you can bring subtle changes in dialogue delivery. Obviously, many things change because of your changed breathing pattern rhythm and you have to keep thinking about it then automatically it happens.

Girish Kulkarni
Girish Kulkarni in the sets of his upcoming Malayalam release, ‘Thankam’ directed by Saheed Arafath

So, a lot of homework is involved, right?

Obviously, homework is important. You need to have script and have to go through it as many times as possible. That’s the least you can do. The actor should understand where the story is happening, what the premise and its background are etc. It’s not like you deliberately do some things. If you keep on thinking about the character, say for example, Jayantha Sakhalkar, and how he is different from Jadav of Ugly, you start collecting a few details about it. Then you can ask your writer, read the script again to find certain nuances. That’s the way I do it. There is no hard and fast rule here.

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Over the past ten years, the Marathi film industry has undergone a transformation, and numerous notable films have emerged. This new wave is led by a string of young directors and you are a part of it. How do you look at this phenomenon?

A new wave definitely is there but it shows its presence intermittently. There are only a few filmmakers who want to make meaningful cinema of world standards. But they are there – there is a tradition as well that the newer ones are also following. The number is not great but our presence is significant.

We live in the close vicinity of the Hindi film industry where the business part is considered as more important than the artistic side of the films. Like everywhere else there are two types of filmmakers, one who try to attempt for box-office success and the others who want to do new cinema, which is meaningful and serious and to create a niche for themselves.

Nagraj Manjule (Fandry, Sairat, Jhund) Umesh Kulkarni (Deool, Valu), Chaitanya Tamahne (The Court, Disciple), Rahi Barve (Thumbbad) – all are part of it and I belong to that category. This is why I find Malayalam cinema very close to my heart. The work culture and the process of filmmaking are very similar to our kind of Marathi cinema. It has to grow.

Your first film as an actor-writer, Deool was a satirical take on the commercialisation of religion which was a political film in a sense. How do you rate yourself as a political person?

Politics is part of our life; we can’t put it aside and live in this society. Politics affects you, pokes you and instigates you. When so many things keep happening around, you have to respond to it, because it’s life. Deool was my response to some of my own life experiences. I wanted to raise certain questions – what exactly is my faith mechanism and how to cope with the new market forces etc. I was posing those questions through my writing.

You have worked with Aamir Khan and Anurag Kashyap in their Hindi films. Both make very different kind of Bollywood films. Whom do you find closer to you?

I love both of them. Aamir Khan is very passionate about movies and he puts in very sincere, prolonged and serious effort in making them. But, I love the kind of films Anurag Kashyap makes, a little more because he is unbelievably passionate about his works. He is more emotionally and deeply connected to the content, as if the content comes from his heart or his life experiences. He has a sort of childlike sense, where a child speaks the truth. At times, it may not be politically correct. There are certain things we should not say. Anurag can’t do that as he does not understand what’s wrong in it. That’s why he often lands in controversies.

Once you know him personally you know about his passion and his connectivity with life and humanity. He does not have a speck of hate in his heart. He speaks about so many things that are not acceptable to society at this particular time. Maybe, after a few years the society will accept his views. Society takes time to get through this learning curve.

In the last couple of years, OTT platforms have transformed the Indian film industry in a big way. What’s your take on it?

One good thing is happening post OTT, that our audience is getting educated about different genres, different forms of filmmaking and storytelling. That’s going to help the breeding and nurturing of new cinema. Many young people are getting wonderful playgrounds. At the same time, it’s heading towards saturation. It’s becoming like a kind of television, I wish that what happened to TV should not happen to OTT. On the other hand, it’s affecting the cinema going experience in a way. Even though theatres have become more expensive these days, that is a different experience altogether which should remain.

Do you think filmmaking is becoming more and more difficult in India these days with political intolerance towards dissenting voices on the rise?

Our politics should be a little more open and inclusive. The political discourses we have now are only for mudslinging. There are hardly any serious discussions happening. If at all different opinions and ‘isms’ could co-exist, there would be a democratic space…

Filmmakers, poets and other artists have an important role in it. The people need an atmosphere and space where they can freely express what is being encroached upon. I am hopeful that the Indian public is capable of bringing change. Having said that I should also say, that the main cause of this intolerance in our society is not any political propaganda but the rigidity of thoughts of individuals. Every one is totally immersed in themselves, nobody has any sort of compassion left for others and that is what is fueling this intolerant behavior and the politicians are just beneficiaries of it

Before winding up, let me ask about your upcoming projects?

As an actor, I have a two-part web series, which is about to start filming. I am writing a Marathi film too. These are the two in the pipeline, but now I am waiting for calls from Malayalam films too (laughs). I have asked Shyam Pushkaran to give me a Malayali character next time, I am ready to learn the language for that!

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