Thankam may be Marathi actor Girish Kulkarni’s first Malayalam film, but he knows all movies scripted by Syam Pushkaran and made by the producers, Bhavana Studios. “I am a great fan of Malayalam cinema, and of their work. I like what he, Dileesh (Pothan) and Fahadh (Faasil) are doing for Malayalam cinema and the kind of films they make. It is similar to what Umesh Kulkarni and I are trying to do for Marathi films,” says the actor over the phone from Mumbai.
A call from a friend, director Geethu Mohandas, led to him being part of the project. “She asked if I would be interested in a film her friends were making, and I said ‘neki aur puch puch’ (Why seek permission for kindness?).” Curious about the process of these filmmakers, it was an opportunity for him to learn up close how Malayalam films are made. He plays a Mumbai cop investigating a crime which has links in Kerala. Scripted by Syam, the film about two ‘gold agents’ has been directed by debutants Saheed Arafath and Prinish Prabhakaran.
Having started his career in Marathi films, Girish’s first Hindi film was Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly. Then came his role as wrestling coach Pramod Kadam in Dangaland a few others including Fanney Khanand Bhaag Beanie Bhaag. He has also been part of web series such as Sacred Games, Sunflower and Guilty Minds. Girish won the National Award for best actor and screenplay (2011) for the Marathi film Deool. He wears many hats - of writer, actor, director and producer of Marathi films.
Describing the process of making Thankam fun, he calls Syam ‘wonderful’. He says the actors were allowed the freedom to indulge in the situation. “He was open to different creative thoughts. After all, we are all trying to create magic on screen, which needs the energy that he brings on set. He allows a person (actor) to bloom and explore their craft, there are no restraints. That gives confidence and happiness to the actor.”
As a writer himself, the process of creating is a joyride and Girish confesses to judging scripts “from the perspective that it can be done differently. But then there is the ‘actor’s surrender’ and when that happens I concentrate on my job as an actor and everything falls into place. As an actor, who is also a writer, you have to do that. If you don’t do that, it creates a dilemma.”
The many pluses and the rewards of the surrender are an understanding and appreciation of the writer’s stance, being able to establish a connection with the director, access to another side of the story other than what he has read, and most importantly, an insight into the writer’s process.
So did he judge Thankam, and Syam as a writer? “No!” he says laughing. He was taken by the story rooted in real life and its nuances. Joji, Kumbalangi Nights, Ayyappanum Koshyum…he rattles off names of some Malayalam films that he has watched and enjoyed.
Girish draws parallels between Marathi and Malayalam cinema — “the homely atmosphere on the set, the kind of stories we tell and the theatre-like process. Marathi cinema is known for its solid stories drawn from life and life experiences. Our films too don’t have huge budgets, and like here, there are a few people who are striving to make meaningful cinema.”
The Malayali’s cinema literacy
The difference between the two industries is the level of cinema literacy. “It is higher in Malayalam cinema, perhaps due to the film society movement. People have watched world cinema and they know the art of cinema with greater depth. That helps filmmakers explore new paths and different kinds of cinema.”
A reason for this is the absence of infrastructure or more precisely fewer cinema theatres in Maharashtra. “People don’t have access to movies, most of what they consume is via television. While in southern States going to the movies is part of the culture, in Maharashtra watching a play is part of their ‘culture nourishment’.” Even as things change, Marathi films are yet to do commercially well and the reason circles back to not being consumed enough to be counted as having done ‘business’.
This brings him back to understanding how filmmakers like Syam Pushkaran and Dileesh Pothan are ‘carving a niche’ making economically viable films while telling real stories. “This will give filmmakers everywhere confidence that they can also make such films!”
Thankam, also starring Biju Menon and Vineeth Sreenivasan, releases in theatres on January 26