National award-winning actor Girish Kulkarni is a force to reckon with. The Marathi actor who made an unforgettable debut in Bollywood with Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Ugly’, recently forayed into Mollywood with his role in ‘Thankam’. His earnest and no-nonsense cop character won’t be forgotten by the audience easily.
The ‘Sacred Games’ actor opens up with Onmanorama about his experience working with Syam Pushkaran and the reason why he decided to foray into Mollywood, despite a hectic career.
How did you get on board with the project?
I have been closely following the films produced by Bhavana Studios (Fahadh Faasil, Dileesh Pothan, and Syam Pushkaran). Films like ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ was responsible for generating interest in Malayalam films among Marathi film viewers and theatre artists alike. So, when acclaimed filmmaker Geethu Mohandas, who is also a friend of mine, called me up one day to tell me that Syam and his team wanted to cast me in their film, I was happy. In fact, it excited me to be part of ‘Thankam’, since I was well aware of the type of films Bhavana Studios was making. When Covid delayed the project a little, I would follow up with Syam constantly. It was exciting to meet the entire team in Coimbatore when the shooting began post-pandemic.
Your cop character in ‘Thankam’ is well-appreciated. Were there any challenges you faced?
I had played a few well-celebrated cop roles in the past, like the humorous cop role in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Ugly’. So, I was determined that none of those mannerisms would reflect in the cop character I play in ‘Thankam’. Also, I loved this cop as he was very different from who I was. Girish Kulkarni is a very talkative and fun-loving person, while the cop I played was quite reserved, observant and won't spare any wrong words. It was easy to become this person through Syam's expert guidance.
Working with the filmmakers and cast, including Biju Menon and Vineeth Sreenivasan...
It was a beautiful experience. I love Shyam's writing and how he brings relevant issues to the forefront without making the film melodramatic. I am a writer, and I love how organically Shyam captures stories. Also, we would have a lot of discussions. I felt very comfortable on the sets because everyone on the team shared the same passion for cinema, which was very assuring. The only frustration I faced was when I could not speak in Malayalam to my team members. In fact, I would spend most of my free time, bugging the team to explain what they were saying to each other. It was fun!
You had this one dialogue in Malayalam in the film...
Yeah. Did I sound convincing when I said that? You won't believe it, but I was behind Syam pestering him to give me some dialogues in Malayalam. (laughs). He would look at me and say, 'But Girish, you are a Marathi cop. You can't be speaking in Malayalam.' Finally, after a lot of pestering, he gave me one dialogue and I was so happy, though it was an abusive word. (laughs).
You seem to be genuinely fond of Malayalam
Yes, I do genuinely have a love for Malayalam. It has a wonderful phonetic sound, while in Marathi there are too many stresses on words. I also loved the Malayalam banter around me. You won't believe it, but I would just burst out laughing at Biju Menon's jokes, though I wasn’t fully aware of what he was saying. I was also lucky to have a Marathi crew member who would help translate some of the sentences for me.
Would you work in another Malayalam film in the near future?
I definitely would. My love for Kerala goes a long way. Our Marathi films were screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala, way back in 2007. Also, you won’t believe it, but when the Marathi film ‘Deool’ received the national awards, the film director Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni and I were felicitated by the Directorate of Culture, Kerala, first, even before Maharashtra recognised our work. We were so overwhelmed by the love Malayalis gave. Also, I feel Malayalis have a high film literacy rate, which makes them very observant about various nuances in cinema. In Maharashtra, people are more inclined to drama and theatre, unlike in Kerala where watching movies is a cultural thing.
Does being a writer make you a better actor?
I would say it helps an actor when he or she is also a writer. You can analyse the psyche of a character more and contemplate their response. But, I also feel it can cause some friction, especially since you may have an opinion on certain characters and their depth, which may not be what the filmmaker has in mind.
You are closely associated with Bollywood actors. What do you think is the biggest challenge for Bollywood in today’s times?
The industry needs to introspect about why their stories are not working. There are political reasons and unnecessary controversies that have affected the industry, but at least now, the filmmakers will be able to analyse and introspect about what people really want. Probably, this will help them deliver more relatable stories.
Your thoughts on ‘Thankam’
‘Thankam’ honestly explores the lack of communication between individuals and how difficult is it for a person to show their true selves in today’s world. In my opinion, people are hiding their true selves because of today’s media explosion. You have become fragile, owing to the social, political and individual pressure to keep your image intact. So, you don’t show who you truly are, even to your best friends, which leads to a huge communication gap.