Interview
 
Chandrakant Kulkarni
Chandrakant Kulkarni, the producer-director with the Midas touch in Marathi entertainment, revives the eight-hour long trilogy of Mahesh Elkunchwar's famous Wada plays and continues to draw full houses over two decades for his productions! Theatre is certainly his forte - whether it's the historical controversy in GANDHI VIRUDH GANDHI or be it the sweet family entertainer SAAKHAR KHALLELA MANUS that's currently touring the US - Kulkarni has a finger firmly on the pulse of the audience and is in deep touch at the same time with the qualitative aspects of theatre.


 By Deepa Karmalkar

Chandrakant Kulkarni


Deepa Karmalkar (DK): Why should anyone give 8 hours to watch your production of the Wada trilogy in these digitised times?

Chandrakant Kulkarni (CK): WADA CHIREBANDI is a brand for the Gen-next actors and a treat for mature audiences. It is a rewarding experience for all involved in it. The play is not only about re-visiting the past but it is also about social structure, family system and urban migration. It is not only nostalgia but has good content with a tremendous holding capacity. Today's show had three generations watching the play. The story has a universal appeal - it could be based in Konkan, Marathwada or Khaandesh. These are live characters that we can find around ourselves.

DK: I watched the first show of the trilogy, WADA CHIREBANDI, about the crumbling Wada (mansion) and the drunkard young heir Parag whom you have shown standing with his back in the door towards the end. What happens next? Will Parag redeem himself in the sequel MAGNA TALYAT?

CK: (laughs) What happens next? Well, that is the power of Mahesh Elkunchwar's writing. Of course closing the play with Parag standing within the doorframe is my touch! But that's how the trilogy captivates you - it is a sociological progression. That is why the audience is still willing to sit through the 8-hour run.
The trilogy was staged first in 1994 on an experimental basis, and then in 2014, it became a full-fledged play and had a successful run of 180 shows. A year and a half later we revived it again - 8 hours trilogy - WADA CHIREBANDI, MAGNA TALYAT and YUGANT - with four intervals.

DK: Like you said, Parag standing in the doorway is your 'touch'. Have you incorporated any changes in the script or they are restricted only to the presentation?

CK: Right, no changes in the script but some short edits ... some visual element that will connect parts of the play into a wholesome composition. But to maintain the timeline (1980s to 90s) I kept close to the original script so the audience gets to know the subtext in today's time frame.

DK: What are your current challenges in staging this magnum opus?

CK: The casting was challenging. I like to cast actors that will become the parts they play. I almost bulldozed my way into casting Nivedita Saraf in the role of Neha, the elder daughter-in-law. Bharti Patil who plays the elderly mother is younger than some actors, while Prasad Oak, Vaibhav Magle and Deepak Kadam are established names. I cast Purnima Manohar in the role of the younger daughter-in-law - she is from the experimental theatre in Dubai. So I keep looking out for my characters all the time. And of course, the challenge is in managing a play with 13 actors - it is like managing a circus!

DK: Being Chandrakant Kulkarni helps getting the actors I am sure!

CK: I humbly accept that it helps, because they know I don't make business proposals but artistic proposals, which the actors also enjoy participating in. I am grateful to my actors - they have committed their Saturdays and Sundays all year long to this.

DK: Also you enjoy a loyal following among the audience that is willing to sit through your 8-hour long trilogy.

CK: We do not compromise on quality or entertainment value. We offer an honest, aesthetically rich cultural experience to the audience. Their word of mouth gets around...I have complete faith in my audience. I understand and convey the writer's strengths. I can make a smooth transition of the written word into a 3-D space.

DK: How do you view the ongoing trend of remaking Marathi plays?

CK: There must be a purpose behind remaking a play other than just whipping up nostalgia. For instance, the Wada trilogy revisits the sociological history of Maharashtra; it depicts the graph of evolution of women in the society. The play has to be associated with human emotions. It must be a thought provoking, enriching experience.

I directed HAMIDABAICHI KOTHI for Sunil Barve's "Herbarium" project - that was purely for nostalgia. I am slated to direct another play for "Herbarium 2" now.

DK: Over 37 years spent in Marathi theatre, how would you describe the evolution of the audience?

CK: There is a big socio-economic change in the Marathi theatre audience. People have shifted from Girgaum to Dombivali, from Lalbaug and Parel to elsewhere. Their priorities have changed. Their work hours have changed by virtue of working in malls, call centres, etc. Their choices have changed - they are travelling the world over. They have become brand conscious. But at the core of it all they still love theatre. As per the changing times, weekend theatre is in vogue. Other than Prashant Damle and Sanjay Narvekar - I don't think there are actors who can draw an audience on weekdays. We have to look for theatres with smaller capacity of about 500 as compared to 1500 seaters now. With the shortening attention span, 90 to 100 minute duration would be ideal for a regular play.

DK: How about catering to digital India?

CK: For the younger generation, we offer online booking facility. With that, when their parents/ grand parents ask them to book tickets online, they end up buying for themselves too. The digital connectivity is very important now. Watching a play is like a two-hour meditation. You watch with total concentration. It's therapeutic.

DK: How would you summarise your theatrical journey so far?

CK: I am really fortunate that my passion is my vocation. Since my starting out in Aurangabad, and then later in Mumbai, I have been trying out something new all the time. I am busy 365 days in the year - looking for new themes, casting, rehearsing, discussing, and doing interviews - in the pursuit of novelty and quality work. I have worked with the best writers - Mahesh Elkunchwar, Vijay Tendulkar to present-day writers such as Abhiram Bhadkamkar, the best producers of plays like CHAR CHAUGHI, GANDHI VIRUDDH GANDHI, stalwart-actors like Prabhakar Panshikar, Amol Palekar, Nana Patekar to current hero - Siddharth Chandekar. It has been a rewarding journey. I am enjoying the ride.

DK: As Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility. Does the audience expectation weigh heavy upon your shoulders?

CK: I am completely overwhelmed when some unknown person comes and tells me, "Tumcha natak changlach asnar" (It's your play, it must be good). I definitely have a responsibility towards my audience. I am answerable to them. I am grateful to my audience, producers - Jigisha and Ashtavinayak and the critics.

DK: What is on your mind right now?

CK: I am going to see off our SAAKHAR KHALLELA MANUS team on a 40-day tour to the US. Then I am working on a theme encompassing 30 years of theatre that I have been a part of - that is a big job.

*Deepa Karmalkar is a film and theatre reviewer. She has been an entertainment journalist for over fifteen years.




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