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Different journeys to self-awareness
Renu Dhole | Monday, 24 November 2014 AT 01:00 PM IST
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The two are as different as chalk and cheese, yet they share an easy camaraderie. Atul Kulkarni and Priya Bapat, who play a brother-sister duo in Sachin Kundalkar’s Happy Journey told us how the experience of working in the film changed them, during a visit to Sakal Times office.

Atul, this film doesn’t look like a Sachin Kundalkar film. How was it working with him at a point when he seems to be reinventing himself as a director?

I think as a director, his method remains the same because I’ve seen him work earlier. He’s the same, meticulous filmmaker — his production managers vouch for the ease of working with him because everything is so planned. The change is in the telling of the story. Sachin writes his own films and it is in the writing that the storytelling has changed, not in its direction so much. He is reinventing himself, which is such an important thing for any creative person. It requires courage to go out of your comfort zone. And Sachin has done that with this film. He goes as per the demands of the story. The emphasis, the approach, everything changes accordingly. Sachin was very clear he wanted to make this a ‘Disney’ kind of film, in terms of its look, feel and texture. And people are reacting saying — ‘it doesn’t look like your film’, which I think is a huge compliment to him. If you can surprise people so, it’s the best thing you can do.

Has it been mould-breaking for you as well? Everybody knows how intensely you prepare for your roles. Was it a different journey working on a film that demands freshness and spontaneity?

I’ve been trying to unlearn things for the last 2-3 years now. I’ve tried doing it differently wherever the film, the director has permitted me to. I would say Premachi Goshta was a step prior to Happy Journey as far as the change in my acting style is concerned. HJ is the peak of it. Interestingly, it was Sachin who wanted it. In the first briefing itself, he told me — ‘Let’s try this. Don’t prepare for the role’. Of course, when I say I didn’t prepare, don’t take it at face value. As an actor, I will always carry my work, my training over so many years within me. So I wasn’t a clean slate.

But here, you gave yourself freedom to not rehearse too much...
Yes. Let me give you an example. Earlier, when performing a scene, I would know the points I had to touch. So I would fix them in my mind, and draw a mental line to know how I was going to do it. So I would never fail. Now what I do is I just decide certain points in my mind and explore my way to reach them, with the director’s help. In my scenes with Priya, I had no idea how I was going to react to her. Earlier, I would think everything at home, before reaching the sets. Here, I went on the sets completely vulnerable.

Priya, in popular imagination, you don’t seem to belong to Sachin Kundalkar’s world. What mindset did you go into the film with?
I had not seen Sachin’s earlier films, so I had no clue how he works. And being from TV background, I always thought whether any proper ‘filmmaking’ directors would ever approach me. When Sachin called, I was very happy. But when I went for the reading, I kept praying he doesn’t offer me anything ‘bold’. But as actors, there are times when we have to cross or extend our boundaries. Then came the scene I had to kiss Ajinkya (Siddharth Menon). I knew it was extremely important to complete Janaki’s character, but being from a typical Marathi family, one is not sure of the consequences. My mom still doesn’t know about the kiss, by the way! (laughs). I took one day to think about it and agreed.

So Sachin truly made you push the envelope...
It was fabulous working with him. He’s the first director to work on me before the shooting began. He instructed me on how my nails need to be, how much water I needed to drink since I was doing an outdoor travel show, the clothes, body language, and the works. We had a workshop in Sonala, at Atul’s farmhouse, where we did script reading, dance rehearsals etc. It was a completely different experience for me. So when we went on the set, we were confident of our characters. We just needed to emote in front of the camera. This process was so important because a film begins much before the shooting starts, and lasts after it ends.

Did you hit it off instantly with Sachin?
Absolutely. He had told me at the reading that he would be my best friend. He turned out to be my bestest friend during the film. I’m grateful I met him. It’s been enriching as an actor, and as a person. I consider Happy Journey as my first film. My journey will start now. Nobody has taught me the way he has. He’s been a mentor.

And what about Atul? What kind of conversations did you have on the sets, given that you come from such different worlds?
(Laughs) Our conversations were more of arguments because the way we think, the way we react, what we watch, what we read is all too different. And even I have strong opinions, whatever they are. But I’m open to his opinions. I like listening to him. Whatever he says, there’s always a well thought-out reason for it. So yeah, I’m grateful for having met him too.

Atul, the film is set to release next week and film fraternity has reacted very positively to the film. Did you expect such warmth from your colleagues? Sachin Khedekar has tweeted saying it’s the film of the year in Marathi cinema...
We’ve shown it to 100 odd people from the industry at private shows. Everybody in the fraternity has a right to be skeptical about a film, or think ‘Why wasn’t I offered this’ etc. But it is only when a film becomes bigger than the people who made it, that people from the industry react in such an overwhelming manner. At the end of the day, actors, directors are artistes first. So when you see good art like this, you instantly feel happy. Envy, jealousy come later. This is what we’ve been experiencing after the shows. It’s heartening. We’ve become smaller than the film — nothing greater can happen to an artiste.

‘It’s a film about transformation’

Actor Siddharth Menon, who is cast opposite Priya Bapat in the film, on how the film is much more than a brother-sister saga.

The brother-sister relationship at the centre of Happy Journey might be the highlight of the film, but Siddharth Menon believes it is, in essence, a story of ‘transformation’. “There are a lot of layers to the film. It endorses a different way of living, something Sachin believes should be exposed to the audience. It is the story of change, how every character in the film transforms because of something or someone during the course of the film,” he said. And the change, he felt, isn’t restricted to the story of the film, but also the way it’s made. “From music, to shot taking, to the way it’s written, we could see transformation in all the departments,” he said.

But Happy Journey doesn’t spoonfeed the audience. “They will have to see these little things in the film. We’ve been with the film for so long, but still, with every viewing, we take away something more, something different,” he expressed. The young actor, who has been a theatre actor, believes he needed a film like this to polish him.

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