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“Laal Ishq will break many myths about me”

Actor Swwapnil Joshi’s latest outing Laal Ishq is also Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s first Marathi production. Joshi, who started his career with Hindi television serials and transitioned to Marathi films more than a decade ago, speaks to Rohini Nag about his upcoming romantic thriller and the way forward for the Marathi film industry

Laal Ishq is the first Marathi film for Sanjay Leela Bhansali as producer. How were you approached for the film?

It was a regular day, until I got a call from Shabinaa Khan’s office, saying she wanted to meet me. When I met her, she told me that Sanjay sir was a partner and they wanted to venture into the Marathi film industry and they wanted me to be the main lead for the film.

It was that simple?

It was that simple, but I think it was that very simplicity which touched me most. There were no qualms, there was no baggage about who they were. Their approach was as professional as it could be and it was amazing. That phone call will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is not every day that you get a call from Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Shabinaa Khan, telling you that they want to work with you. So it was a great and humbling moment. They then discussed the story idea with me and I loved it, and things went forward seamlessly. There was no drama.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a director-producer whom everyone wants to work with. Were you star struck when working with him?

I was and I still am. It is not like I was star struck but I am still in awe of him and I think I will be in awe of him for the rest of my life, for what he has achieved, for what he is and who he is. And the same goes for Shabinaa. They have proved, time and again, what brilliant producers they are. They are the finest we have in the film fraternity. So it was very humbling… and every actor has a dream to be spoken of in the same breath as Sanjay Leela Bhansali. What could be better than to play a lead actor in his film!

Was he creatively involved in the film too?

Absolutely. Creatively, he was very involved in the film but to the extent that he never overshadowed or overpowered the vision of the director. He was very proactive in his approach, as was Shabinaa. But no one was ghost-directing Laal Ishq. It was very gracious of him to always give leeway to Swapna (Waghmare Joshi, director) to make a film that she wanted to make. That is the mark of a great producer.

You worked with Swapna Waghmare Joshi in Mitwaa. What was it like to work with her in Laal Ishq?

It was completely different because Mitwaa was a mushy love story. It was more in the Dharma zone or Yash Raj zone, whereas when Swapna narrated the story of Laal Ishq to me, the first question I asked was, ‘Can I do this, will I be able to pull this off?’ as it goes against my image, it goes against the image that Swapna and I carry. I think Laal Ishq will break many myths about me as an actor, and Swapna as a director, as the story and the presentation are out of the box. It is different, it is interesting, you could say it’s quite quirky yet extremely commercial.

Tell us something about the film and your character.

I play the character of a superstar, actor Yash Patwardhan. He is a small-time theatre actor who makes it very big in films. Then there comes a time comes when Yash’s mentor, the director who made Yash who he is, is in a bad financial space. To save the latter’s career, this actor decides to return to theatre and do a play with him. To rehearse this play, cast and crew of about 15-odd people go to a resort for 25 days, during which time there are three murders at the resort and a love story blossoms amid all this. This is what the film is all about. Do the murders lead to the love story or does the love story lead to the murders? And who is getting killed, is the crux of the film. The film is also about whether all this is a plan or just coincidence. Laal Ishq is a romantic thriller. I would not call it a linear thriller because the screenplay is woven beautifully between a love story and a thriller. There is a romantic situation under way and suddenly it snaps into a dramatic event and you venture into murder mystery territory. So there are a lot of twists and turns in the narration.

What do you keep in mind while signing a film?

First, it is content and then I think of other things combined. There are a lot of things you consider when you are doing a film but when a film like Laal Ishq comes your way, a lot of those considerations are already taken care of by the production house involved.

I generally look for a great story and interesting content but when a Sanjay Leela Bhansali and a Shabinaa Khan have approved that story, then all you have do is close your eyes and believe in their vision.

How clued in are you to the box-office numbers of films?

I am as informed about box-office collections as I am informed about Indian politics, just enough to survive. I am not great at it, I am aware of my surroundings but I am not a master of it. Personally, I don’t work for numbers, numbers are a byproduct. Some films will work and some films will not, and what we all need to work for is belief in the content we are trying to get to cinemas.

With a few recent Marathi releases hitting the bull’s eye at the box office, where do you see the Marathi film industry in the next five years?

I see Marathi films breaching the Rs 100-crore barrier. Technically, we are at par with any other film industry and our films are rich in content. Marathi films have always been content-oriented and it’s the script that is regarded as the hero. So I foresee growing box office numbers. What has dramatically changed in today’s times is the way Marathi films are marketed and the way you make these films reach out to the audience.

Will we see you turning to Hindi films?

Insha Allah! If something comes my way, I would be more than glad to be part of it. We cannot foresee the future and make plans, we can only work hard and let our work speak on our behalf.

Last time we spoke, you mentioned how the transition from being an actor to a director or a producer is a natural process and that you would be making it some day.

Yes, it is a natural process and I am not in a hurry to do that. Right now, I am enjoying the space I am in as an actor. It will come in its own time. You cannot grow in another field of work till you feel that creative comfort to move forward. This transition has to be natural, not forced.

What’s next?

It’s only Laal Ishq at the moment as we are busy promoting the film right now. I have not signed anything else.

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