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Interview with Atul Kulkarni

On 26th June 2010 BNA-Germany met the indian actor Atul Kulkarni during the Filmfest Munich. He was there was the german premiere of his latest film "Natarang" which was screened in  the "Rio Palast".  We spoke with him about "Natarang" and the differences of the indian society now compared with the 1970s. 


BNA-Germany: Welcome to Germany. It's your first time in Germany and you are here in Munich for the premiere of your latest film "Natarang". Has the filmtiltle a special meaning?

Atul: Yeah, it's Marathi and actually there is a theatre god, it's a god of dance basically, which is called Nataraj or also Natarang. There are nine emotions which are mentioned in our books of dance and drama. So Natarang actually means all those emotions, combined in dance.


BNA-Germany: And what has the title to do with the story of the film?

Atul: This film is about a folk form of theatre in Maharashtra which is called "Tamasha". It has songs and dance in it and the film is about the story of an artist who wants to play a role of a king in that Tamasha, but unfortunately he ends up in playing a character which is called Nachaiya. It's an effeminate character and just the opposite of a king. So it has actually boths parts - man and woman - which is the film about. So Nataraj is half man and half woman.


BNA-Germany: And that's your character in the film?

Atul: Yeah, my role is the character Guna who works in the field and wants to have his own Tamasha too. And that's what the film is about - the journey.


BNA-Germany: And how it came to happen that Guna in the film had to play such a role?

Atul: He faces lots of problems. Basically the major problem that he faces is to require a girl to dance in the Tamasha group. But dancing in a Tamasha is not a good thing for the elite society. It has a bad image.


BNA-Germany: And why?

Atul: Because dancing in front of people and playing a drama in the elite society is not considered to be good enough. Here in Tamasha they have to have a woman but nobody is ready to play this part. Ultimately Guna gets a girl but she has a condition, that there also has to be the Nachaiya character. Since  the Nachaiya character is not accepted in the society, none agrees to play that character. Only Guna, who wants to have this theatre group decides to play that role.


BNA-Germany: But if the image of playing such a character has a bad image, why Guna takes this part?

Atul: It's basically an art form and an artist who works with passion does not care about what the society thinks. If you want to be part of this art form, then it doesn't matter. And that is exactly what Guna is. He doesn't care for the elite society things.


BNA-Germany: Is there a parallel between the character of Guna and yourself? I mean you also studied theatre and drama.

Atul: Yeah, but now it has changed. The film is based in the 1970s in a small village in Maharashtra. So now things have changed a lot but still this particular form Tamasha is still looked down upon.


BNA-Germany: How did it happen that you got the story and the role?

Atul: Actually I've worked in films for the past ten years...


BNA-Germany: Yeah of course, you are known here for your films like "Rang De Basanti" with Aamir Khan and "Page 3" with Konkana Sen Sharma. And it seems that you prefer to play such strong character forms. Is it your focus?

Atul: Actually I want to play all kind of characters. I don't want to be restricted to only one kind of character. I do different characters in all my films. So a good story and a good character is what I'm looking for. Not the type of the film. But you have to work for years to give that confidence to the director, that you can try something different. For example all my roles in films have been very intense and very dominating characters. But I would also try a comedy for example. And I'm hoping that it will happen.


BNA-Germany: Good, but tell us how did you got this role of Guna...

Atul: The producer and the director came over to my office one day and narrated me the story. And I loved the story because it's a very wonderful and dramatic story. Outside it's a story of an artist, but deep inside it's a story about gender politics. It's about the stereotypical definition, about the society, about a man and a woman - how a man should be and how a woman should be. If there is a man who is a little bit effemiate or a girl who is a little bit tomboyish it's not accepted.


BNA-Germany: Is it still like this in India?

Atul: It is. People are not very comfortable with these people who are acting agaist the stereotypical definition of man and woman. Of course it's been changing in the big cities of India right now, with educated people, but in a small village it is still there. So "Natarang" is also about gender politics, because Guna is a man, who for his profession acts like a woman on stage. But otherwise he's a man. And it shows how the society and family treat him. So basically I love the story and the character, because I had to fit these two extrems physically and mentally. For an actor this is a huge challenge. So there has been no reason why I should have said "No" to the film.


BNA-Germany: How were the reactions of your family and friends when they got to know that you would play that role?

Atul (laughing): My wife said that I'm a very hard kind of a person - a not very soft kind of person. She was quite worried about how I would do the second part on stage but my friends and family were quite happy after watching the film. My family reacted very positively and was wondering whether the audience would accept it, because the audience knows me as the one who is very dominating in films. So how would they react on my effemiate character.However the story is told in such a manner, that this transformation happens in front of the eyes of the people. The story saved us in the sense that people got so engrossed in it and loved this character so much, so that it didn't matter to them that Atul Kultkarni is playing such a role.


BNA-Germany: How did you prepare yourself for that role? Did you spend more time with women that you learnt how to act and behave?

Atul (laughing): I did lots of things. The basic challenge was the physical challenge. I put on weight for my first part of the film, about 15 kgs. Then we took a cut of two months and I lost 16 or 17 kgs for the second part.


BNA-Germany: But that's not very healthy, or?

Atul: No, it was quite scientifically done and I had a trainer who took a great care. And I didn't have any side effects of it. So that was one thing. The second thing was to learn to dance. It's not exactly a dance, but those gestures and postures, hand movement, neck movements....and I went through a rigorous training for that. And to understand the inside of that character, because he is doing something which he doesn't want actually, he's doing it against his wish. while  on the other side the strong desire to excel as an artist is so accute that he accepts it. So what is going on inside him, because on the outside he's becoming a very successful artist, but from the inside he's unhappy because the society, his family and his friends are not treating him well. He is doing something else, but wanted to be king. So all this was the focus of the second half of my role, on which I had prepared.


BNA-Germany: How was the audience's reaction in India compared with other countries in which the film was screened. Is there a difference between the Indian audience and the audience in Toronto or here in Munich?

Atul: This is the first screening which I attended outside India. This is a Marathi film and in the regional language of Maharashtra. So even from the non Marathi speaking audience, we've got  tremendous response. We released this film in the 1st of January 2010 and it is still running in Maharashtra after about six months.


BNA-Germany: Only three weeks after the release of the film you released it also with english subtitles.

Atul: Yes, the response to the film was so much in the non marathi speaking population that there was a huge demand that we released it with english subtitles.

BNA-Germany: We wish you good luck and lots of succes with the film and thank you for speaking to us.


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