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Vying for meaningful cinema sans barriers

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Bollywood actor Sonali Kulkarni
Bollywood actor Sonali Kulkarni

Bollywood actor Sonali Kulkarni, who believes in doing experimental roles, speaks to Madhur Tankha about her upcoming films, her journey in the industry and much more.

Her career may not have exactly taken off after her laudable role in the highly popular film “Dil Chahta Hai”, but Bollywood actor Sonali Kulkarni has made it up by doing meaningful roles in theatre as well as regional films including those in her mother tongue Marathi.

Sonali isn’t regretting her decision not to sign too many commercial movies after “Dil Chahta Hai” opposite Saif Ali Khan that was loved by the new generation of cinema lovers. “I don’t choose films on the basis of its language – Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi – but purely on its subject and how the filmmaker will be adapting the subject on the screen. As an actor I want to explore more options. I believe in doing experimental roles. My journey in the film firmament is filled with lot of surprises. I have done meaningful roles before jumping into the bandwagon of commercial cinema. And when ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ became a hit I didn’t go on a signing spree.”

Stating that getting a role in Aamir Khan starrer “Dil Chahta Hai” was like a dream come true, Sonali says she played an out and out urban girl, who had modern sensitivities. “She takes pride on her background and has an uncanny sense of humour. It was filmmaker Farhan Akhtar’s first film as a director and we had a whale of a time shooting it.”

Speaking about her upcoming film “Mohandas”, Sonali says she is playing the character of Meghna Sengupta, a correspondent working for a news channel in New Delhi. “It is an interesting portrayal of an urban young girl who wants to derive creative satisfaction from the work she is doing. She is not one of those TV journalists who don’t do her homework properly and gets ridiculed by the celebrity she is interviewing. She discusses her story with her seniors in order to get a new insight into the subject. During my film career, I have come across some journalists who have touched my heart and mind with their alertness, prompt answers and general knowledge.”

Narrating the story of the film that has been directed by Mazhar Kamran, Sonali says the TV journalist receives a video tape from a nondescript place in Madhya Pradesh. “On the tape, a battered young man claims to be the real Mohandas and alleges that someone else has stolen his identity. Intrigued by what looks like an unusual small-town scam, Meghna makes a trip to Anuppur. There, she unearths a more harrowing and surreal story.”

Irony and satire are inherent in “Mohandas”, says Sonali, as the film exposes the absurd levels to which democratic institutions can be manipulated today. “It is also an allegory of how a fake identity displaces the real one in contemporary times. The other actors include Sharbani Mukherji, Nakul Vaid and Sushant Singh. I have been given a free hand by my director. The wardrobe and mannerisms were left to my discretion.”

Describing her journey in the film industry as a mixed one, Sonali says she thoroughly enjoyed playing the innocent kid sister in acclaimed Marathi film “Doghi”, the victorious protagonist of “Daayraa”, the brave foster mother of Hrithik Roshan in “Mission Kashmir” and Aishwarya Rai’s best buddy in Gurinder Chadha’s “Bride and Prejudice”.

Sonali’s moment of triumph came when she won the best actress award for her Italian film “Fuoco Su Di Me” at the Milan film festival. “I played the character of Graziella. Massi Miliano, an Italian actor, played the role opposite me. When my first film ‘Cheluvi’ directed by Girish Karnad was screened at the Cannes film festival I got a chance to meet the producer Sergio Scapagnini and director Lambartini. In 2005 I went to Italy to prepare for the role. I was given two language tutors and underwent eight weeks of intensive training to brush up my language.”

Pinning a lot of hopes on her upcoming film “Shadow” in which she plays a no-nonsense cop, Sonali says she could relate to the role because during her childhood days she was commander of Road Safety Patrol. “Former police officer Kiran Bedi is my idol. To do physically demanding stunts, I received a lot of training to remain fighting fit. We shot the film in Bangkok. While Nasir Khan is playing a visually challenged role, Milan Suman also has a substantial part.”

Right from childhood days, Sonali was inclined towards arts, classical music, dance and theatre. “Bollywood has given me a chance to do diverse roles. Ten years ago one could say that our heroes continue to play leading roles despite becoming old while heroines have short shelf lives but not anymore. These days people don’t go out to watch a movie if the protagonist is a 16-year-old girl. The concept of character artiste is fast changing in Bollywood.”

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