It’s been over a year since the record-breaking Marathi movie Sairat hit the screens. To jog your memory, the film opens with its director Nagraj Manjule’s voice as the cricket commentator of the Bittergaon Village Premier League. Later in the film, you see flashes of him merrily swaying to the hit song ‘Zhingaat’ amidst other background dancers. Like many directors, Manjule too likes to show up in his own movies. In his earlier film Fandry (2013), he gave himself a more substantial part. “In Sairat, the small part of the commentator came to me easily because I had personal experiences to draw from. Also it was a bigger film than Fandry for me – more characters and more shooting days – so I thought this small part would be interesting. When I used to narrate the script to people, they would always laugh at that bit, and I’d keep improvising as I told more people,” says the 41-year-old director.
Gajendra told me only I could play this part. He told me there’s this character who is negative but not in a typical way. He’s an aam aadmi who becomes negative. I have played a bad man before in Umesh Kulkarni’s film, but never someone who was negative to this extent.
Though his heart lies in direction, the odd acting assignment always attracts Manjule. This Friday, he’ll be seen in a major role in National Award-winning filmmaker Gajendra Ahire’s Marathi film, The Silence. The film, which has been doing the rounds of festivals for the last two years, is a powerful commentary on sexual abuse and violence. Manjule plays the frightening perpetrator who mercilessly batters his childless wife and abuses a young niece he’s been entrusted with raising. He plays the part to perfection, making you fear for the women in the film every time he enters the frame.
“Gajendra told me only I could play this part,” he says with a laugh, wondering if this was a compliment. “He told me there’s this character who is negative but not in a typical way. He’s an aam aadmi who becomes negative. I have played a bad man before in Umesh Kulkarni’s film, but never someone who was negative to this extent. Also, I enjoy acting sometimes. When I act in my own films I don’t get time to do big parts because I want to concentrate on my main responsibility, which is direction,” he explains.
Manjule has spent the last year penning his next movie – a Hindi film with Amitabh Bachchan. He admits that the resounding success of Sairat has opened up a lot of doors for him. “Some things are becoming easier. People start believing that you can make good films and they want to start working with you. I am the same man, I make films the same way, but people start looking at you differently,” he explains. There’s also a downside he says – “You suddenly get busy doing useless things.”
So far the biggest reward of Sairat’s success has been the access it has given him to Bachchan – his childhood hero. In a heartwarming Facebook post, Manjule wrote about dressing like Bachchan in Deewar (1975) to go to school and reenacting Sholay (1975) with his friends. He can barely conceal the fanboy in him when he talks about finally shooting the actor in a couple of weeks. So how does one request an actor they idolise for a retake? “I’ll see how I manage that,” he grins, adding, “But work is work. I’ll never compromise on that.”