Ankush Chaudhari has just delivered back-to-back blockbusters –Classmates, Double Seat and now Daagdi Chawl, which is running house-full in its third week. Chaudhari, who started his career with Hindi films and made his debut in the Marathi film industry 15 years ago, speaks to Soumita Sengupta about his roller-coaster ride and the lessons he’s learnt
Did you ever imagine that Daagdi Chawl would do so well at the box office?
Before making the film, we worked hard on the story but never imagined that movie-goers would love it so much. The response has been outstanding. The film is running all over Maharashtra to house-full shows and even in Baroda. It’s been a long time since a Marathi film has done so well in small circuits like Alibaug and Islampur where there are only a few cinema halls. Centres like these are dominated by Hindi films but, clearly, things are changing. Apart from Mumbai, audiences in the interiors of Maharashtra too are demanding to watch Marathi films so cinemas in these places are running an equal number of shows vis-à-vis Hindi films.
Is it true that you take a keen interest in a film from its inception?
Yes. I started my career 15 years ago and I have done my research. The story of Daagdi Chaawl was brought to me by producer Suresh Sawant. Initially, it was a dark and serious film, which would have limited our audience but the story appealed to me so I asked him if we could lend the film some shades of grey but also add some entertainment. Then our writers Ajay Tamhane, Pravin Kamle and all of us worked on the storyline. My character’s name is Surya, and he has a conflict with his father, and there is a love angle in the film too. After we developed the story, we were looking for a director who could pull it off exactly the way we had envisioned the story. That’s when we got debutante director Chandrakant Kanse on this film.
Daagdi Chawl is the place where Arun Gawli lived. Is the film based on him?
Yes, we took that character – played by Makarand Deshpande – and changed the rest of the story. Makarand’s character is called ‘Daddy’ by everyone and he resides in the chawl. I play his son, who, like I said, has a conflict with his father.
You said there is a love story too…
Yes, we set the story back in 95-96 and people who had seen Mumbai during that time felt nostalgic after watching this film because ‘Mumbai’ back then was ‘Bombay’, and was very different. It was also a time when the mills in Bombay were shutting down, people were jobless, and everyone wanted to do something to earn quick money. At that time the underworld was at its peak and a lot of jobless youth aligned with the underworld. It was also a time when people bonded over trust. Coming to the love story… in those days, love stories were not bold. So the girl stays in the next building and you look at her every day but you can’t openly tell her you have feelings for her. How that girl stands by the protagonist and helps him is the love angle in my film. The romantic angle was added to up the entertainment factor.
You mentioned that you started your career 15 years ago. What lessons have you learnt from your films?
I always wanted to become an actor. I started my career with the Hindi film Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai. Then I did a few Marathi films but the industry was not booming. Although Shwaas (2004) received an outstanding response, nothing was working and the audience was still not ready to come to the cinema to watch films. In 2006, my friends and I started doing some research where we went met movie-goers, cinema owners and people from the industry, to understand what was wrong and what the audience was looking for.
Then we worked on a script and cast Bharat Jadhav, Siddharth Jadhav and Ashok Saraf for my directorial debut. We went all out to promote our film by letting the audience know what it online casino was all about and why they should watch it. It was a turning point for the Marathi industry as the film did very well at the box office.
So we learnt some lessons through that journey. I had seen some really bad days but my passion for films kept me going. And after my first film itself, I had decided that I would play the lead role. I couldn’t do that initially but, with each performance, the audience as well as the industry started accepting me as a hero.
You have three consecutive hits – Classmates, Double Seat and now Daagdi Chaawl. Do you think the hard work has finally paid off?
Yes, touch wood. Last year, whatever film I chose turned out well but I believe it is also because we now concentrate more on content. Classmates was a thriller, Double Seat was a new-age love story and now Daagdi Chaawl is a film based in the year 1996. So each film is very different from the others. This has worked very well with my audience. Even my 2013 film, Duniyadari, was an author-backed film, which too did outstanding business.
How would you describe the growth of the Marathi film industry over the years?
There has been a huge change. I have worked in films made on a budget of `11 lakh as well as on a budget of `4 crore. There was a time when audiences were not prepared to watch films in cinemas, whereas, now, even people who haven’t watched a movie in many years are going to watch Marathi films in cinema halls. Even non-Marathi speaking people are enjoying films like Court, Fandry and Killa. Big Bollywood releases no longer pose the kind of threat that they used to since a good Marathi film is watched by the audience even on its fourth day. With corporate houses coming in, and marketing becoming a key factor, the industry is seeing its best days and hopefully the number of good films releasing next year will be more than this year. There was a time when only 18-19 Marathi films released a year; the rest never stood a chance of releasing. But today, there are 100 Marathi films releasing a year. So yes, the industry has come a long way.