Marathi filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni, whose Deool won the National Award, talks about how his experiences shape his cinema

Filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni’'s National Award-winning Marathi film Deool was the inaugural film at the ongoing Filca International Film Festival (till July 26 at Aryanad). The film also bagged awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actor, both going to Girish Kulkarni. Excerpts from an interview, where the director speaks on his filmmaking years…

Did the National Award for Deool (The Temple) come as a surprise to you?

Yes. It did come as a surprise. I never make films thinking of awards, so when it does come, it is a pleasant surprise and a recognition.

How did you zero in on the topic? Did you have in mind the constant tug between forward looking development and the reinforcing of traditional practices in society ?

For my first two films – Valu and Vihir – we travelled a lot meeting people and observing situations. However, the main idea for Deool emerged from the conversations we had with residents of Karnawadi in Satara (Maharastra). A small temple had been destroyed to make way for a concrete structure to seat the idol. This was done as a ‘service’ to God. The locals were happy about the good turn they had done. Their concept of development seemed to lie in the replacement of the original with a vulgar edifice.

Girish Kulkarni is the scriptwriter of all your films. How does this chemistry work?

It works because we have known each other for nearly two decades. Before I went to study at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, we did lot of theatre together. As individuals we have different and distinct points of view, but the relationship is so organic that we complement each other.

Most people think of short films as the stepping stone to making a feature film. But, you say it’s your ‘oxygen’. Could you explain this attraction for a genre, which is just gaining audiences in India?

Oxygen, yes. But, not a stepping stone. I like the freedom and the possibility of experimentation in short films. And it is more effective. I do make short films between my feature films but the time it takes is in no way less. It takes a year at least.

Your earlier films Valu and Vihir are quite different from Deool yet very much rooted in the land. What kinds of memories or experiences influence the choice of a theme?

Most of the stories come from one’s own experiences and are not from any novel. It is a constant search to understand one’s self and at the same time find answers to things happening around us, by delving deeper into human behaviour.

Marathi films have always had a space of their own at the national level, but the picture is now brighter with a new crop of filmmakers giving a fresh perspective to issues that touch our lives. How are they coping with the big budget Bollywood films, the multiplexes and their own funding requirement? Could you explain against your own experience?

Since 2000, there has been a lot of movement taking place in Marathi cinema. Perhaps, it is the beginning a fresh ‘new wave’. There are plenty of trained filmmakers who are not conditioned to a particular type of filmmaking. Earlier we had Sumitra Bhave, Jabbar Patel and Nachiket Patwardhan making good films. But they rarely received the audiences the films deserved nor the screening venues. Now with multiplexes and social media, the reach is there. What is more encouraging is that there are people who in the last 20 years have not been to cinema halls to watch films, and this group has started returning to the theatres.

The cut throat competition to get screening venues continues because Hindi films have an edge on that score. There are few theatres in Maharashtra which screen Marathi films. Yet, we are battling it together.

Any Hindi film on the anvil?

Making a Hindi film was never my destination. I make films on subjects closer to my heart and the language of a film rarely matters because, cinema itself has a language and has its own way of communicating.

As an FTII graduate you would have been exposed to a whole range of good films. Which are the films or filmmakers who have influenced you?

The FTII years provided the opportunity to watch a broad spectrum of filmmakers and styles. Watching the classics and the masters became the staple. Federico Fellini, Abbas Kiarostami, Yasujiro Ozu, Wong Kar-wai, Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak have left their imprints. One filmmaker who I am in awe of is Girish Kasaravalli and his style of filmmaking.

Valu, Vihir, and Deool were equally well-received. What according to you brought the accolades in quick succession?

The reason for the success lies in Girish’s (Kulkarni) writing – simple and direct. It has been his constant effort to put the idea across in a genuine and straightforward manner. Valu and Deool were stories of lives lived by many, and therefore identification with the subject becomes easier.

How have audiences in the international festival circuit responded to your films?

Many do not know what the young filmmaker in India is doing and for that reason they are curious. Films by Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the Bollywood fare are well known. It was encouraging, to see my films running to full houses in Rotterdam, Karlovy Vary, Berlin and Busan. Young audiences are responding to our films.

Was it your dream to become a filmmaker?

From painting to architecture to chartered accountancy, I wanted to delve into all. I worked as an assistant to Sumitra Bhave for Dhogi (1995) and Zindagi Zindabad (2000), which introduced me to the process of filmmaking. As a filmmaker I believe my generation is not addressing the experiences of our present lives. Therefore, the challenge lies in constantly renewing ourselves.