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Just My Cup of Ti

Producer-actor Pushkar Jog along with actors Sonalee Kulkarni and Prarthana Behere talk to Padma Iyer about their upcoming Marathi film Ti And Ti

Pushkar, how did the association between you and Mrinal Kulkarni happen? What made you approach her to direct a film for you?

Pushkar Jog (PJ): We have known each other for a long time, since my childhood. She was a student of my dad’s. My dad was a lecturer in Pune and she had studied under him. So I have known her for 20 years. And being the legend that she is, who wouldn’t want to work with her? So since I knew her, I approached her. She has directed two films – a historical film and a serious, romantic film. When I met Mrinal, I asked her, ’Ma’am, how about making a romcom?’

Coincidentally, she was on the same page. She said, ‘Okay, I haven’t tried this genre, so let us do it.’ And the best thing was that the writer was in-house. Mrinal ma’am’s son Virajas Kulkarni has written the story. He has given the film a youthful flavour. It is a contemporary love story that men will relate to and of course women too. The script was very interesting and that is how it started. I also decided to co-produce it.

Coming to the leading ladies, Sonalee and Prarthana, how did the two of you come on board the film?

Prarthana Behere (PB): Pushkar and I are friends, and when he approached me, I was shooting for my film Whatsapp Lagna. I found the title and the subject interesting. But I wanted to know who was going to direct it. And he said ‘Mrinal Kulkarni’. I am a huge fan of hers and have watched her films. She is a wonderful actress as well. And I always wanted to work with a female director.

My film Mitwa was directed by Swapna tai (Waghmare Joshi). And I was always fascinated by that. And Mrinal ma’am is a well-known director in the Marathi industry. These things checked the right boxes for me.

Sonalee Kulkarni (SK): I had worked with Mrinal tai in Rama Madhav under her direction. It was an amazing project to be a part of. Especially as an actor, when Rama Madhav came my way, I was doing all the glamorous roles, the typical heroine roles. There were some meaty parts. Nobody thought I could play a strong supporting character. People were under the impression that I wouldn’t accept such roles. But I don’t know what struck Mrinal tai.

Of course, we have known each other being part of the same industry. We used to meet often at events. We had interacted a lot before she even approached me. She knew me personally. So she called me one day and said, ‘I want you to play Anandi bai in my film.’ Nobody had seen that facet of Anandi bai that Mrinal tai wanted to show in the film, to explore the human side of her. I was excited. But she also told me that I was not the heroine. I was surprised that someone had come to me at that point in my career with a role like that.

Many people dissuaded me from doing it but with that film, I was able to explore a lot as an actor. People started taking me seriously and that changed the course of my career gradually. Then Mrinal tai called me after 3-4 years. She said she wanted me to do this film, but it was a complete contrast to Rama Madhav. ‘It is an urban, fun and entertaining love story. There are two roles, and I have decided which one you should play. But you listen to the film and let me know which one you want to do.’

She wanted to check if both of us were on the same page. She and Virajas came home to narrate the script. I thought it was a fun and interesting film. I listen to a film as an audience. If I enjoy it, my next question is, what is my role? She asked me which role I wanted to play. I wasn’t ready, but I said ‘Priyanka’. It was the same role she had thought of for me. And that is how I came on board.

Actors have a process for approaching their character. What are your working styles?

SK: It happens naturally for me. When you know this is the set-up, this is the premise, this is genre, this is the era, this is the age, this is the director, it draws you into that world. But at the end of the day, it is the director’s vision and I am a director’s actor. When I started working in Marathi films, I did not know anything about acting. I am very proud to say that! I was a blank slate so I was eager to grasp new things. If you come with a mind-set that you know everything and you know what to do, you cannot learn anything.

I was prepared to learn. I just wanted to be shown the right direction. And I have been lucky that I got such directors as well – Kedar Shinde, Ravi Jadhav, Swapna Waghmare Joshi, Mrinal tai and Prasad Oak. These directors have a certain vision about the subject. As an actor, you may think only about the character or that particular scene. But the director has  a bird’s eye view. So sometimes, it is better to follow their vision.

PB: I think I am very spontaneous. I don’t know what method acting is. I never wanted to become an actor, it happened because of destiny. So when I have script and a character, I think like that character. So for a role, I try to work out a background or back story. I may make some notes around that. I prefer working in that place.

PJ: I need to prepare a lot for my roles and cannot just land up on the set. I need to read what the background is like and more. I also need the support of my co-actors, which was there in the case of this film. We rehearsed in London because it was a very tight schedule. And, of course, the support of the director is important.

Pushkar, you have produced the film. On the sets, are you a producer first or an actor?

PB: He was first a producer and then an actor.

PJ: I was thinking about how I could save money.

But then you have shot the film in London…

PJ: That is the most exciting part. We have not splurged. Just because we have shot in London, doesn’t mean we were, like, let us make a 10-crore film! Because it is a Marathi film, we have to understand the limitations. Yes, I have saved money, but I have not compromised on the look of the film. And I always wanted to shoot abroad. I am a huge fan of Yash Raj Films and the movies that Saif Ali Khan has done with them.

I always wanted to play roles like he did in Salaam Namaste and Love Aaj Kal. But such movies are not usually made in Marathi. So for me it was, like, when will we make such films in Marathi? I told Mrinal ma’am that we are shooting abroad. We are not shooting in Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur. So, we told Virajas that we wanted a script that would need such a location. So he came up with this fantastic story that is relatable to everybody.

I have given my best as an actor and I will leave it to the audience to decide. I have tried to entertain. I will tell you what, as a Marathi actor there is not much money. The canvas is smaller too. As an actor, there is a certain lifestyle we need to maintain. We struggle to get work and we don’t get as much money as well. If I can bring investors on board, convince them to produce my film, not invest my own money and still make a Ti And Ti in London, then why not?

PB: He was a producer 90 per cent of the time and 10 per cent an actor. But when we saw the film, he was brilliant in it.

SK: He has done a wonderful job. But I would also like to underline the fact that we need producers like him. He is very smart. I don’t know where he gets his ideas. He gets investors; he gets deals. He has good business sense.

PJ: People say there is recovery for Marathi films, but let me tell you there is no recovery for Marathi films. After Ti And Ti releases, I could easily put up a post on social media claiming that the film has made 5 crore. Are you going to go and see if it really did? Marathi films are not working, apart from those that have corporate support. It is essential to reach out to the audience and get them to theatres.

When we go to sell a Marathi film, the figures start from peanuts. There is no unity among Marathi producers.  

I am very glad to say that I have already sold my film. I have recovered my CoP. So whatever I make now is a profit that will go into the next production. They already want me to make To And To! But I have to say that both of them have been a great support to me and the film, and Mrinal ma’am as well.

What have you done to promote the film?

PJ: I have 12 to 15 brands on board. I have tried to promote it in my way without spending any money. For me, as a producer, and of course for them as well, the box-office success of Ti And Ti is very critical for the making of the next project. I have done Bigg Boss, but people judge you based on your last box office collections.

In Hindi, Gully Boy had around 25 brands. Marketing for Marathi films should also happen like that. We need more agencies that will sit across the table and discuss what can be done. You need money to make a film, but more than that, you need the brains to make the most of it. I have managed to get the numbers, production-wise, the CoP of Ti And Ti is unbelievable.

I got Thomas Cook on board. They spent on the travel and now they are spending on the media. We have two jewellery brands on board, who are spending on the media. I have a food brand Cheesiano, for media and TV.

The problem is there are a lot of poachers who try to fleece producers, saying they can make a Marathi film. I have researched Marathi films, and just six to seven have managed to recover their money while the remaining 140 odd have not last year. If you suffer losses, there is no motivation to make another film. How many producers do we have who are second-time producers?

Ti And Ti will be out on March 8. What is next on the cards for all of you?

PJ: I have already started work on my second film, which is also set in London. I love that city! It is called Well Done Baby. Work on the script is underway. I also have a web series coming up, Lakhon Mein Ek. I am acting in it. It will be on Amazon Prime Video. I am playing a negative lead in the series. It will be out in April, before the elections. It is about elections and I play a young MLA. 

SK: There is a reality show which I am judging. We are close to the finale now. That space gives a lot of scope to experiment with stuff that you don’t get to do usually on screen. I am enjoying that space. Then there is a film that I have recently finished shooting. We will be making an announcement soon.

PB: I am not taking up any new films right now as I have films that have been completed and are up for release. This is because I am doing a film with my husband, which we will announce soon.

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