Theatre is his first love, says Makrand Deshpande as his new film ‘Sona Spa’ explores the improbable idea of sleep workers

Theatre is his mainstay and occasionally we get to see him in films, flaunting his overgrown, salt and pepper beard.

Makrand Deshpande returns as a director with Sona Spa, scheduled to release this month, three years after his last film Shah Rukh Bola Khoobsurat Hai Tu. An adaptation of his play of the same name, the film explores the idea of hiring someone to sleep for you while you go about your work.

Here’s a catch. If someone sleeps for you, he/she will also have access to your dreams. The improbability of this idea and the limitation of narrating it on stage prompted Makrand to think of making this into a film. The film stars Naseeruddin Shah and theatre actors Aahana Kumrah and Shruti Vyas among others.

Excerpts from an interview:

Theatre has always been your medium of focus. What makes you decide on adapting a play to the big screen?

Sona Spa is about sleep workers. Two women, one who comes from Mumbai and understands the lack of sleep as her father suffers from insomnia and the second from Pune who goes through trauma after her sister meets with an accident are the central characters.

These women sleep for a billionaire business tycoon and a creative head of a television channel. While doing so, they have access to the dreams of these men. While the clients feels refreshed, the sleep workers suffer the catharsis of their actions during their dreams. As a play, Sona Spa was received well but I felt theatre as a medium was limiting the idea. I felt the need for a larger visual medium.

Having said that, I have recently revived my play Sir Sir Sarla and contemplating doing a film based on that idea. The text of the play is wonderful and I feel it should reach out to a large audience. In each case, the reason for adaptation is different.

Naseeruddin Shah’s part in Sona Spa is something you created specifically for the film. How did that come about?

Naseer had watched my play and loved it. When I worked on the screenplay, I wanted someone who could talk about the philosophy of sleep workers. I wanted a powerful voice that can make an impact. I couldn’t think of anyone else but Naseer. In this film, Naseer believes that a person who sleeps well thinks well and lives better.

How did this idea of sleep workers come about?

After I directed my first film Dhanav and was working towards its release, I was starved of sleep. Of course I got over the anxiety with time and went back to my routine. Sometime recently, my girlfriend asked me, “should I sleep for you?” when I complained of lack of sleep. That’s when the idea struck. If you could go on a pilgrimage for someone else, can you not sleep for someone else?

Was it easy to find a producer for such an idea?

I took a chance and approached a relatively new producer, Madan Paliwal. The team liked my idea and was intrigued how I would make a film out of it. I wanted them to trust me and they did. My cinematographer Rajeev Jain and composer Shailendra Barve are from theatre background.

Occasionally you’ve put on an actor’s hat. In Telugu we saw you in Ek Niranjan and Dandupalaya in Kannada…

I have zero interest in acting (laughs). I act when I am in need of money or if someone is after my life saying I fit the role. Theatre is what I like to do.