Who is Girish Kulkarni?
'Yeh Girish kaun hai, Atul Kulkarni ka bhai', a prominent Bollywood director wonders, despite the fact that his first Marathi film was produced by Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan's AB Corp Ltd.
When told the anecdote, Girish laughed it off saying, "I'm not surprised that I am not well known. Ek to main Pune main rehta hoon. My friend and creative partner Umesh Kulkarni helm a production house in Pune. We're happy so far to be making our Marathi films away from Mumbai."
However, life and priorities did change for Girish when he was declared the best actor for his performance in 'Deool' at the 59the National Film Awards.
"It came as a complete surprise. My home is swamped with relatives and friends. My sisters have come to visit Pune just to be with me after hearing of the National Award. My daughter Sharavi has been attending all the calls while I've been meeting guests.
"It's a completely new feeling for me. So far I've never even thought of a National award. I've acted in only four films, all in Marathi - 'Vihir', 'Ghabricha Paus', 'Gandh', and 'Deool'. I am happy doing Marathi cinema. But now I know I've to expand my horizon," he said.
Until very recently, Marathi cinema was subservient in the public domain to Hindi films, says Girish and adds that Sandeep Sawant's 'Shwaas', which was India's official entry to the 2004 Oscars, gave the film industry a new lease of life.
"I do feel a lot of quality cinema emerges away from Bollywood, from West Bengal and Kerala, for example. For Marathi cinema, I think the game-changer was Sandeep Sawant's 'Shwaas' in 2004. That's when the rules regarding the low production values associated with Marathi cinema changed.
"Earlier our films suffered due to lack of funds. Producers saw Marathi films as a make-a-quick-buck business venture. Now we see a genuine love for Marathi cinema. There's a lot of recognition for non-Bollywood cinema at international film festivals. That helps. We've lately had Marathi films on every subject ranging from farmers' suicide to Dada Saheb Phalke. It's an exciting time to be part of the Marathi cinema."
Despite the positive changes, Girish says he had a tough time completing and releasing 'Deool'.
"We had to make the film under severe financial hardships. Luckily for us 'Deool' was appreciated. And so was my performance. But I never thought of the National Award. Awards are not my motivation for acting. Whether it's the stage where I've been active for years or cinema, my output has been limited. I only do work that I am convinced about," he said.
Hindi cinema beckons the former mechanical engineer with both arms.
"Anurag Kashyap, who is a dear friend, has been waiting with open arms. I've been a little hesitant. But I think the time has come to do a Hindi film, if for no other reason than to move into another linguistic zone. I am a qualified engineer. For many years, I worked as an engineer and moonlighted as an actor. Then I finally did what my heart told me. I became a full-fledged actor."
Talking about his Marathi film 'Vihir' and his collaboration with Big B, he said, "It was such a pleasure working with Amitji. He even did a promotional video for 'Vihir'. Sadly the producers after AB Corp were just not that receptive to good cinema. But as I said, the status quo is changing."
Now he is getting ready to release two of his starrers. "And that's really a lot of films for me, considering I did four films in five years. Now two of my films 'Masala' and 'Pune 52', are being readied for release."
Incidentally, Girish's daughter Sharavi has acted in three of his films. "She was in 'Vihir', 'Valu' and in 'Deool'. I suppose a love for cinema runs in the family."
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