There are many journeys that the film Bucket List encapsulates. The film follows a housewife on the path of self-discovery; it celebrates Madhuri Dixit Nene's first reel step towards her Maharashtrian roots, and it also marks its young filmmaker's dogged pursuit of his ambitions against many odds. For more than four years after the release of his second feature film Premsutra, Tejas Prabha Vijay Deoskar saw several of his projects go bust at various stages of filmmaking.
But having come a long way from Nagpur with a degree in architecture and no connections in the notoriously closed film world, the self-taught filmmaker didn't have the liberty to mope around. "I was looking for a project that was inherently unstoppable," says Tejas. Getting the Bollywood superstar on board gave his script, inspired by a story he had read years ago online, the wings to soar. The filmmaker takes us beyond the headline-grabbing euphoria surrounding Madhuri Dixit's Marathi film debut.
Tejas, you are telling this story from a housewife's perspective. What does it take for a young man like you, who proudly has his mother's name in his full name, to get into the headspace of a woman?
A lot of it has to do with observation. But it has also helped that I am close to my mother. She was a working woman who also raised a family. I have always believed that everyone, be it a man or a woman, has the right to nurture her unique individuality. When I got married, I left it to my wife whether she wanted to change her surname or not. If I demand preserving my identity, I must extend the same right to others. Observing these two women I'm close to in my life, watching without judgement how they are shaped by their times, did provide me an insight. Also, it helped that my co-writer (Devashree Shivadekar) was a woman.
Were you ever apprehensive that your simple story of an ordinary housewife could be turned into a vehicle for a big star's Marathi debut?
There are two things here. First is the clarity of the story in your mind. Someone else can only take control of your material when you yourself are not sure of it. That wasn't the case with us. We were completely sure of our story and we had won Madhuri ma'am's confidence in us. We had given her detailed presentations of everything from colour palette, to the character's mood board, to the texture of the film. Everything was on paper.
Secondly, it also matters how the star is as a human being. And I have to say that Madhuri ma'am was only extremely warm and co-operative. I really respect the sincerity she has as an artist. She was as eager and dedicated as an actress who's getting her first break.
Your film is set in Pune. You come from Nagpur and have remarked on how the reductive, stereotypical representation of the region, often considered the poorer, cruder cousin of Western Maharashtra, in films and TV has bothered you. Did you ever consider fleshing your story out in Nagpur?
No. It was always a story set in Pune. Not even a bigger city like Mumbai. Pune has its own culture, its own idiosyncrasies that have made their way into the film. Nagpur has its own charm but this film couldn't have been made anywhere else.
You grew up in a time and place that witnessed poor distribution of Marathi cinema outside Western Maharashtra. And Hindi remains the language on the streets of Nagpur. What made you opt for the Marathi film industry?
To be honest, it's easier to make inroads into. I spent many years on the periphery and the film world is tough to make inroads into. But my films aren't Marathi-specific. I could have never made say, a Harischandrachi Factory or a film on Bajirao. My short films too have not been language specific. I've made a silent short film and others in Hindi, Marathi and English. Even today, I have a finger in Hindi film industry. You will hear about it soon.
Marathi cinema in general is known for being content-rich. However, very few Marathi films are actually doing well commercially. What lessons have you learnt from your last two films in the Marathi film industry?
I've understood that for my film to be judged good or bad, first it has to reach the audience. I have to make the audience walk in to the theatres to see my film. There has to be a strong pull factor for sure. I wanted Madhuri ma'am for this film not just because she's such a beauty—that's not really a requirement in my film as she had to be de-glamourised for most part—but also because she's such a powerful actor. I've been asked if I went to her because she was a commercial star, but it was really her sincerity as an artiste that makes her so watchable.