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My comedy is a tribute to Hrishida & Basuda: Amol Palekar
He describes himself as an actor by accident, producer by compulsion and director by choice. Actor-director Amol Palekar has always favoured off-beat cinema and his latest offering 'We Are On. . . Houn Jau Dya' is no different. But this time he has chosen to direct a comedy. The film, which will release next month, is Palekar's tribute to Basuda (Chatterjee) and Hrishida (Mukherjee), directors whose films were characterised by gentle, tongue-in-cheek humour. In a conversation with TOI-Crest, Palekar talks about the current crop of filmmakers and why present-day television does not excite him
You acted in many comedies but your own films usually have serious themes. What prompted you to direct a comedy?
When I am an actor, I am an integral part of someone else's story. When I am a director, I choose my own subjects that I wish to share with others. I am not allergic to making a comedy but that is not my first choice. Besides I have so many wonderful stories, intense and serious in nature, that I put away lighter subjects in the lower rack of my priorities. But after making Dhoosar (featuring a female Alzheimer's patient ), an emotional film, I felt almost obligated to make We Are On. . . Houn Jau Dya. This is my response to the innumerable fans who criticise me for not making a comedy.
How is your film different from the current crop of comedies, most of which are either slapstick or border on the farcical?
One reason I hesitated before making a comedy was that I did not want to add yet another film to the crop of the slapstick comedies. I was working on this concept for last couple of years, I shared it with a few producers but nothing materialised. Then I tried to commission a few writers known for their lighter writing but they didn't satisfy me. So I told Sandhya, my wife, that I would shelve this project unless she stepped in. She took up the challenge and came up with a fascinating bouquet of almost two dozen idiosyncratic characters and her whacky, crunchy dialogues were the icing on the cake. The strength of this film is its content. It is set in contemporary, everyday situations. The film opens with a line: "My tribute to Basuda & Hrishida". I have tried to use all the knowledge I absorbed from these maestros of comedy in this film. I have also tried to follow the classic tradition of Marathi comedies made famous by men like Master Vinayak, PL Deshpande, Damuanna Malwankar, Raja Gosavi.
Among all your films, Golmaal continues to have an eternal appeal. How would you explain this?
I was privileged to work with both Basuda and Hrishida. Rajnigandha, Chhoti Si Baat, Chitchor, Baton Baton Mein, Do Ladke Dono Kadke, Apne Paraaye have Basuda's distinct stamp - simple, understated, tongue-in-cheek and everyday humour in the life of a common man. His ability as a cartoonist to caricature a simple situation from an upside down perspective and his command over his craft gave us some evergreen cinematic moments. It was exciting to play alongside a maverick character like Bhawani Shankar. It was a challenging task as an actor to play three characters simultaneously . . . yes, it wasn't a double role. Everybody keeps talking about Ram Prasad and Laxman Prasad. They tend to forget that a young, normal, sports-loving protagonist is forced to create both these characters. But Utpalda played the eccentricities so brilliantly that all I had to do was to respond with the underlying desperation of my character. Utpalda, Dinaben (Pathak) shared a theatre background so we used to rehearse and improvise our scenes. Hrishida used to control us from going haywire.
What is your opinion about the portrayal of women in current films, especially the ones that claim to be womencentric ones ?
I strongly feel that mainstream Hindi cinema has always been very regressive while depicting female characters. We see the Indian prototypes of the damsel-in-distress, silly mannequins, wicked witches, or women as victims of violence. Even the so-called liberal directors repeatedly reinforce the image of submissive, docile, foolish female characters. A film that is centred on a middle aged woman like English Vinglish was welcome in this scenario. Through my films, I have chosen to depict simple but independent and unconventional women who challenge their situation.
Where do you think Indian cinema stands today in comparison to the rest of the world? Have any recent Indian films impressed you?
If any work of art has to have a lasting appeal, it has to have a solid content. Young Marathi filmmakers are experimenting with their content, style and craft. I feel this kind of variety in treatment and content is there only in regional cinema and not in mainstream Hindi cinema. But I see a lot more experimentation in low-budget Hindi cinema. There is a cult around Anurag Kashyap's films. Vishal Bharadwaj has been making interestingly different films;Neeraj Pandey, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Dibakar Bannerjee have made their presence felt too. Mainstream Hindi films are only attempting to resurrect old hits, and that is a sad trend.
You have contributed memorable content for television like 'Kacchi Dhoop', 'Naquab', 'Paulkhuna'. Any plans to return?
Television today is tailored for economically viable content;it has no place for originality or style. It is dictated by mediocrity and that the channel will interfere in the creative process is a given. I cannot succumb to all this.
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