As Tu Hi Re released this week, lead actors Swwapnil Joshi, Sai Tamhankar and Tejaswini Pandit; director Sanjay Jadhav; and producer Utpal Acharya talk about their hit films as a team, competing with other film industries and Marathi cinema going from strength to strength.
Box Office India (BOI): Can you tell us about the film and how you conceived it?
Sanjay Jadhav (Sanjay): This is actually our third film together… Swwapnil (Joshi), Sai (Tamhankar) and mine. Duniyadari was the first, then Pyaar Vali Love Story and now Tu Hi Re. After Pyaar Vali Love Story, even the producers are the same. The new addition is Tejaswini (Pandit).
Our film’s story starts after eight years of marriage and is the kind of love that happens in Indian households after years of marriage.
BOI: You just said it was an obvious decision to cast Sai and Swwapnil. Was that due to the comfort factor?
Sanjay: It is all about the comfort zone. We are thick friends, almost like family. And if you have such talent in your family, why would you go elsewhere to look for talent?
BOI: Utpal, as a producer, how did you come on board?
Utpal Acharya (UA): I have known Sanjay for 12 years and this is the most successful director-actor pair after Duniyadari. Pyaar Vali Love Story was their second movie and that’s where our journey began. Now I am also part of their family. So Tu Hi Re was the next logical choice because of its story.
There is so much good content but there is no proper exploitation to monetise this industry. So my contribution to this industry is to take this whole process to a studio structure with increasingly significant and more earthy Marathi content.
BOI: Sanjay, you just said that Sai and Swwapnil are like family. At the script level, do you keep them in mind as your characters?
Sanjay: Actually, yes, like anda pehle ayaa tha yaa murgi? Similarly, I don’t know which comes first… keeping them in mind inspiring the story or starting with the story and having them come to mind automatically.
BOI: Can you elaborate on your characters in the film?
Swwapnil Joshi (SJ): Interestingly, it is the first time I will be playing characters in two different age groups. I am playing a guy in his 20s and a guy in his 30s. The perspective of life is very different for a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old today. Traits like being carefree, negligent and arrogant and this entire ‘dekh lenge’ attitude continues till my character gets married. Then, this nonchalant nature matures, and with circumstances, the reactions are different.
It’s about how his entire life turns around and the circumstances and compulsion he has to undergo, and while doing that, how love plays an extremely significant role. My character has two completely different shades in the film. As an actor, too, this was a very challenging space, far from my comfort zone.
Sai Tamhankar (ST): I play Siddharth’s (Swwapnil) wife, Nandini, who is total ‘wife material’. Every woman who watches her in the film will relate to her. Either they have been like that for years or are on the verge of becoming her. So unlike the bold image that I have, I think this is going to be a refreshing change as I am playing a non-glamorous wife this time. It’s been a long time since I have played such a beautiful, layered character. My character has immense value for this thing ‘love’. So there are three different perspectives regarding love in the film. For all of us, this film is far removed from our respective comfort zones.
Tejaswini Pandit (TP): I play a character called Bhairavi and she belongs to an extremely rich family. She doesn’t say much and largely conveys her thoughts and feelings through her expressions. She is deeply in love with Siddharth. There comes a point when her life takes a U-turn and she goes to the extreme level of love. I think all the three characters are extremists when it comes to love in their own unique ways.
BOI: The Marathi film industry is regarded as one of the richest regional industries with regard to content. How have you seen this change come about?
Sanjay: We are very happy that Marathi films are also making a mark in terms of content and growing box-office numbers. The best part is that, in the process, we are also entertaining people. During the last decade, there were films that did not make money but things changed after Shwaas, and they picked up after Duniyadari. Marathi cinema had content-driven films earlier too but filmmakers are now trying to strike a balance with the commercial aspects of filmmaking.
ST: I think we have cracked the code on how to package our films. Thus, presentation and marketing have improved, especially in the last five to six years. I am very proud that in Marathi cinema, content is king. It is not about the actor or a star but about content and that is why we are progressing so fast.
BOI: Utpal, compared to other regional industries, what was it about Marathi cinema that attracted you as a producer?
UA: First, the Marathi film industry is based in Mumbai, which is the hub of cinema. A couple of years ago, distributors and producers used to struggle to get proper showcasing for their films and multiplexes used to complete their quota of Marathi films because they had to renew their licence. And let’s face it, Duniyadari was the gateway to the commercial aspect of Marathi cinema, in terms of the way films were being produced, the content and the way marketing was taking centre stage. So the overall packaging of Marathi cinema had changed.
BOI: Sanjay, how did life change for you after Duniyadari?
Sanjay: Hugely, I mean ye sirf kitaabon mein padha tha that raaton raat zindagi badal jaati hai. I had one kind of life on that Thursday night, the night before my film released, and when I woke up the next morning, my life was completely different. The way people perceived me changed overnight. Earlier, when I used to enter a room, people used to treat me like a friend but after that Friday, they started treating me like a friend, philosopher and guide. (Laughs)
BOI: What about you, Swwapnil?
SJ: It was a 360-degree change, not only for me but for everyone associated with the film. I think Duniyadari also brought in a lot of commercial viability to Marathi cinema. To add to what Sai said earlier, in Marathi cinema content is king but what was lacking was the glamorisation of that content. We are competing with not only Hindi cinema but Hollywood as well. When a patron comes to watch a film, and has `150 in hand, he has a choice of watching Spiderman or a Shah Rukh Khan starrer or a Marathi film. So we had content but didn’t know how to reach out to the audience and how to make our content larger than life. Ultimately, as a viewer, I don’t care if you have a budget or not or whether you get a subsidy or not. All I care about is ki mera `150 vasool hota hai ya nahin. That changed tremendously after Duniyadari.
BOI: Talking about markets, what changes have you witnessed in the Marathi industry? What did you learn about marketing? For instance, we don’t usually see many trailer launches for Marathi films yet you did one at a multiplex.
ST: I think it’s an amalgamation of what you have – you have the resources, so fund it correctly and channelise it accurately. Also, you have to come up with something new every time because the competition is very shrewd. Like we started promoting Duniyadari six months before its release and we changed our Twitter handle when Pyaar Vali Love Story was releasing. Now, we came up with the unplugged version of a song where we, the lead actors, are singing. I think we should come up with something new every time. It works and also gives new ideas for promotion and marketing.
Sanjay: Frankly, we are learning from Hindi cinema.
Sanjay: We are learning from Hindi cinema’s marketing strategies and the way they reach out to people. That is also what we realised in Duniyadari, that we have to reach out to people, it cannot happen overnight so we have to slowly make them aware of our product.
BOI: Sanjay, how much has everyone here changed after Duniyadari?
Sanjay: They have changed a lot. Sai has lost a lot of weight… But, no, actually, it is not about Sai or Swwapnil. I think all of us have gone through several phases and, after you taste success, you try to remain grounded. Then you try to improve yourself. If you watch Sai’s films or Swwapnil’s films, you will notice that with every film, they have improved and I am not just talking about my films.
BOI: Can you comment on each one of them as an actor as well as human beings?
Sanjay: Wow, that’s a very difficult question.
ST: Clear your mind!
TP: It’s a trap!
Sanjay: They are all growing, one film at a time. They are learning from their mistakes and their successes. After Duniyadari, we realised that agar itna mehnat karengey, toh we can have crores of rupees flowing in. As human beings, they are still grounded and the best part about our chemistry is that agar humme se koi bhi zyada udne ki koshish karta hai, toh baaki ke do usko zameen pe laane ke liye hai! As for Tejaswini, she has put in so much effort and proved her mettle long ago, and all of us wanted to work with her. I think this is her first outright commercial film, so we are excited to see how people are going to receive her. Before this film, I knew her personally but I didn’t know what kind of an actor she was. Now that I have worked with her, I can say she is superb.
BOI: What is Utpal like as a producer?
Sanjay: He is a gem. All directors want producers like him. He didn’t see a single print from the time the film began till the copy was ready. I am lucky he trusted me, which is very important because there is so much pressure on a director that the producer needs to approve the budget, the songs… Here, there was none of that.
UA: To elaborate on that, we discussed and debated the budget and concept but that was on the script level. After that, he did his own thing. And once his part was done, when it came to marketing and promoting, he gave his feedback and it helped a lot. Also, as he said, I didn’t watch the film because creativity is his forte.
BOI: Utpal, since you have so much experience working with corporate houses, what have you learnt from them to make it as a solo exhibitor?
UA: Organise, organise, organise! This industry was not at all organised initially and that was the challenge. Plus there were learnings from Hollywood as well as Hindi cinema. Hollywood taught me how to perform on a limited budget, especially for a Marathi film, and how to market and promote it. Thanks to social media, we can connect to the mass market.
BOI: How are budgets fixed since the budget of investment is limited?
Sanjay: Yes, the budget of investment is limited because we have to release our film in Maharashtra because that is our territory. As a filmmaker, I have to keep my budget in mind and at the same time the producers know the requirements.
UA: We cannot compromise on the quality of production as that will reflect on screen but there are other adjustments we can make. Not only in Marathi but even in Hollywood and Bollywood, it is suprising to see what can be achieved at a limited price.
BOI: How do you feel about the audience waiting for a Swwapnil Joshi film?
SJ: Our audience always wanted good cinema, which they are getting now. It is their time to reciprocate and they are reciprocating. As Utpal pointed out, our film released with Happy New Year and our audience went and watched it. They would not have done that five years ago. Yesterday, we did another interview and we were asked what was in store for Marathi cinema. We all said we have to explore markets beyond Maharashtra. Five years ago, it was an achievement if a producer could break even. Now we are saying that Maharashtra is no longer a challenge and we have to explore markets outside the state. We can also predict market trends now.
TP: Swwapnil correctly said Duniyadari brought glamour to the Marathi film industry, which it lacked up until then. Another change is that actors have started taking interest in marketing. Your content might be good but if the film doesn’t reach the audience, there is no point doing good cinema.
SJ: This is also happening on a 360-degree level. At one point, I realised that my Twitter account had been ‘verified’. I later learnt that they had a team to analyse how many fake accounts there were, and it required my account to be verified. My Twitter verification has nothing to do with me; it is the growing power of Marathi cinema.
UA: We are using all our devices to promote and release our films. We are releasing films with subtitles so that we can address the non-Marathi speaking pockets. We have started receiving calls from exhibitors asking us to show our films. So it is all about the growing power of Marathi cinema.