Actor Mukta Barve in conversation with Padma Iyer on her upcoming Marathi film Smile Please, working with Vikram Phadnis and how she approaches her characters
This is your second film with Vikram Phadnis. You did Hrudayantar together, which was his first film as a director and you have been in the industry for some time. Have things changed?
The best way to answer this question or to say how he has grown is that I look different in this film. Like you said, I have done a lot of work and if I still look different in a film, then the credit goes to the director. I reserve my questions only during the reading of the script or before going on set. Post that, I surrender myself completely to the director. I believe that if the right people are there in the right place, then I will look different in every film. As an actor, as a person, I am the same. It is all these external aspects, my director, my makeup person, my stylist… these are the people who make me different in every film.
I have worked with first time directors several times. So working with Vikram was not a new experience. When a director narrates a story to me, his conviction is what helps me decide if I should work with him or not. Nobody knows what the final output is going to be, but that belief is important. Vikram had it in his first film and in his second film, it was even stronger. In his first film, he presented me beautifully and that is a compliment I got from many people, that Vikram has understood me. So in this film I knew I didn’t have to worry about anything. For this film, he changed his team as well and I would like to take some names along with Vikram’s - Irawati Karnik, she has written the dialogue and that has taken the film to another level, Milind Jog has shot the film beautifully, the editor Faizal and the music by Rohan-Rohan, everything is done well.
The character you play in Smile Please is quite intense. How did you approach your character Nandini?
When I read the script, a mental graph of the character is ready. But it gets tricky when you start shooting. In this film, there are two aspects to Nandini. First was getting under her skin, that of a professional photographer. So I had to learn about how she would move, how she would talk. I am not good with English, but she speaks a lot in English. So I had to take classes for that. So that was Nandini part one, how you would see her from the outside. Then there is Nandini part two, the emotional aspect that the story is all about. I cannot reveal much about it but for that part, I relied completely on Vikram. I knew the emotional graph but I didn’t know how it would shape up. When I did the first scene, Vikram told me that he understood how I was taking the character forward, but that was not what he had envisioned for Nandini. But then, I didn’t let that bother me. That first breakthrough took some time. We kept doing that scene until I was able to understand how Nandini would move forward in the film.
How do you connect with your co-actors?
Usually rehearsals happen because many Marathi actors come from a theatre background. I prefer connecting with the character rather than the actor. That I feel is an easier method. But then the co-actor should also be honest to the character. This makes the give-and-take easier. Then you don’t have to think if Prasad (Oak) will like this or will Lalit (Prabhakar) like that. Once we have Viraj, the character Lalit plays, and Nandini, then you know Viraj will do this and Nandini can say that. And that has generally been how I have worked with all my co- actors.
You play a mother to a teenager in Smile Please. Did you have any apprehensions?
I played a mother on screen for the first time in Hrudayantar. And honestly it doesn’t bother me. After that role I did films where I didn’t get typecast. I give credit to the audience because they have been extremely accepting of me. They did not put me into any category. Fortunately they have encouraged me in all my experiments, so I am not scared of being typecast. And the fact that I am playing mother onscreen, it is not that I am the heroine’s mother. Smile Please is about Nandini Joshi. She is a mother and she is the heroine of the story. I feel even when I get older and play maybe a grandmother on screen, the story will be about her, she would be the heroine.
What do you want the audience to take back from the film?
Approach wise, Smile Please is a very refreshing film. The emotions are real, the people are real. The dialogues, as I said before, are beautiful. They are just like what you and I would talk in a normal conversation. It is a slice-of-life film, which also has an interesting message. In life we are sometimes held back, life comes to a standstill, we face problems, we feel lonely, a lot of things happen in our normal lives. At that time, we need someone in our life to tell us that things are not that bad as you think, so move ahead. So I am sure that the audience will have a pleasant experience after watching the film and take back a positive message.