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ATUL KULKARNI Exclusive Interview - 'VALU' Touches a Universal Chord

© Hindi Cinema Blog

India has featured as the special guest of the 2010 La Rochelle International Film Festival in France. Its programme particularly focused this year on the work of Maharastrian director Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, who screened his films to a full theatre. His film 'Valu' ('The Wild Bull') delights the viewer with memorable landscapes, touching moments and incessant wit and humour.

The 'Valu' is a misunderstood bull that roams the vicinity of the remote village of Kusavde, much to the villagers' fear and disarray. Politics, relationships and the general atmosphere in the village take a turn when a forest officer (Atul Kulkarni) is sent to capture the roaming bull. He is  accompanied by a budding film maker who wishes to film a documentary about the misfortunes linked to the animal's supposed mischief.

'Valu' was filmed in Marathi and is representative of how Maharashtra is now not only the cradle of commercial Hindi films but also increasingly a breeding ground for exceptional Marathi screenwriting and acting talent. A key actor in contributing to the excellent reputation of Marathi theatre and new Marathi cinema in recent years is Atul Kulkarni, who stars as the main character (Swanand Gaddamwar) in 'Valu'.

The actor who is known and admired across India for his roles in 'Rang de Basanti', 'Khakee', 'Hey Ram', 'Chandni Bar', 'Page 3' and numerous other outstanding performances in theater and cinema alike, speaks to the Hindi Cinema Blog about his career, regional cinema and of course Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni's 'Valu', where he portrays his most comic character up to date.

HCB - You are known to be an actor that is very versatile but your role in ‘Valu’ gives us a glimpse of a lighter Atul Kulkarni than what we are normally accustomed to. Your character is often trapped in truly comic situations. Is the comedy what basically attracted you to the role?

AK - Whenever I select to do a film what I look for is the basic story. The main criteria for me is if the story appeals to me as an audience and then of course there is the character. The genre of the film, as in if it is serious or comedy, is definitely secondary. So as far as ‘Valu’ is concerned, I basically loved the premise of the story and the way in which Umesh was trying to tell the story through the script. Of course it was an added attraction to me because, as you rightly said, people have not seen me in comedy in films, so I would definitely say that was an added attraction.

HCB - How did you prepare for your role as Swanand Gaddamwar?

AK - Actually, Umesh and Girish based this story on a real life incident and a real life character. He is not exactly a forest officer but a veterinary doctor whom they roamed with in small villages when he went there for his job. The doctor was in a way the anchor point for the role. I spoke to him and discussed his experience whenever he went to small villages and towns on such jobs.

I spent a lot of time with him. I learnt how to blow the dart from him and he showed me a lot of (video) clippings of himself which were shot when he was on the job. I picked up a lot of the mannerisms while handling the blow pipe from those clippings.

In any profession the thing, instrument or whatever it is you may be handling, should look as part of your own body, you know. You should be very easy with the instrument you are handling. So when he showed me his clippings, I saw that the blower is basically divided into two parts and they join it and then blow into it. In a clipping, I couldn’t see the animal that he was shooting the dart at, but I could see him. He blew the dart and he knew that it had hit at the right spot and it had done its job. It was all in his body language... He just dismantled the blow pipe at that very moment and started packing. He didn’t even look at the animal! That is what I picked up from him, for example, and I used that in the film. The moment I hit the bull, I dismantled the blow pipe... since it is sure that the job is done. So those clippings and the discussions with him definitely helped me a lot.

The script was the second anchor point I would say, because it was very self explanatory. When Girish and Umesh read the script for the first time to me they explained the character and what they really expected out of it. So all these factors helped me and were points to start preparation.

HCB - Can you share a funny, important or surprising anecdote during the making of ‘Valu’ with us?

AK - The Valu himself was the surprise basically (laughs). He had decided to behave exactly opposite as he was expected to in a particular shot. When he was on the set and we were going to shoot the next day, he was absolutely wild and all furious, opposite to what we wanted him to be on camera. But most of the time, when the camera started, he was absolutely like a gentleman. He refused to misbehave which we wanted him to. So his trainers had to really push him to do that. A few of the scenes he really scared us. I remember one scene in the climax, when we actually follow him and we are chasing him… That time he almost went into the camera and almost hurt the camera man and damaged the camera. That was quite a scary moment for all of us.

HCB - Moving beyond ‘Valu’, we would love to talk about your career. Your mother tongue is Marathi and you are completely fluent in Hindi. Do you feel it is a challenge to deliver performances in languages you are less familiar with (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam)?

AK - As far as all these languages and the industries in these particular languages are concerned, they come with their own culture. I believe it is true with every industry in the world. The people who are involved are basically from that culture and a lot of social, political, educational (elements) are responsible for that particular culture that an industry works around. I have found that every industry is different. Though all of them are in India, they are quite different from each other and it basically depends on the cultural nuances of all these people who handle and are in that industry.

As far as I am concerned and as far as the language is concerned, yes, it is certainly very easy to work in the language that you know the best or that you usually speak in your day to day life. So Marathi, Hindi and English are quite easy. Marathi is my mother tongue so that is easier. A mother tongue is always a mother tongue. Hindi is definitely my second language but has almost become a mother tongue to me. When I was in the National School of Drama in New Delhi we did all the plays in Hindi, I have done lot of work in Hindi and I have done Hindi films.

I am born in Belgaum, which is in Karnataka, where the language Kannada is spoken. I can understand Kannada quite well and I can speak it, not very fluently, but I can manage. So all in all, I have a little flavor of the South Indian languages because of the Kannada that I know, though I do not understand Telugu, Tamil or Malayalam or I cannot speak it. Naturally Kannada is easier, but even in Kannada and other languages I write the dialogues in Devnagari, the lipi (script) in which Marathi or Hindi is written, because I cannot read the lipi in which Kannada or the South Indian languages are written. So I write my dialogues in Devnagari and I mark my pauses. When I speak, I know the meaning of each and every word. Of course you have to work fifty times more than what you work in Marathi or in Hindi.

HCB - That sounds very complicated!

AK - It is complicated because it is as if you are putting words which absolutely mean nothing to you in front of each other and trying to bring a meaning out of it, so I usually have an assistant appointed by the production who helps me in this.

HCB - In speaking of films, you have said “more the regional, more the universal”… You have been travelling recently for the screening of ‘Natarang’ in Europe. How do you feel about the appreciation your Marathi work is getting outside of India?

AK - It is certainly a pleasure because… you see, cinema is a medium which can really cross boundaries and go as it is to the people. It is not like theater, where it is not that easy to take the art to people around the world. Cinema is much easier.

I was in Munich for the screening of ‘Natarang’. Basically, the part of communication through cinema is tested in such festivals or when a film is screened outside your region, why only outside the country? Say for example... if a Marathi film is screened in Tamil Nadu or in Karnataka, it is as if it was being screened in Paris or in Munich. All of a sudden, though there are subtitles in English and you have explained to the people the cultural nuances of a regional film, this information is not enough. I guess a part of cinema lies in what is communicated (beyond the language) to hold an audience. 

I totally accept that 100% of a film will not reach the audience because some nuances are very hard to explain in another culture and language. But still the basic things are communicated. This is why “more the regional, more the universal”. Basically, more the personal, it is more the universal. I guess regional films talk about the very basic things which are common all over the universe. For example in ‘Valu’, the inter-relationships of people are the same: a person comes from outside and there is conflict. Around that, the basic emotion and the basic politics between the characters are the same all over. It is just the outward cover that changes.

Another example is ‘Natarang’ which is about gender politics. It is about the basic definitions that we have carved in our minds about what a woman is and what a man is… or what a woman should be and what a man should be. When those definitions are countered, how does society react? The film is all about that and it is universal.

I guess all these things definitely are tested and you really come to know if you have communicated well through the medium that you have when your film is being screened for a totally foreign audience in the respect of the language and culture.

HCB - So apart from ‘Valu’ and ‘Natarang’, for example, which are already being screened to full theatres in Europe this summer, which other regional films would you recommend to foreign audiences?

AK - As far as my films are concerned, there was a Marathi film which I did about three or four years back which was named ‘Devrai*. It is about a schizophrenic character. I really love that film of mine and we really had taken a lot of effort. I really wish that more efforts were taken to take this particular film to other nations and countries.

Apart from that, I would definitely recommend Malayalam films which I am sure internationally are quite acclaimed. 'Vanaprastham'** for example is a film by Mohanlal, a wonderful film. Quite a few Bengali films are nice… These are the two regional languages in which I would definitely say that a lot of good cinema happens.

HCB - What do you do when you are not acting in cinema, theatre, rehearsing, promoting Marathi poetry, etc?

AK - I have always thought that my profession is not my life. It is very important but a small part of my life. So I am interested in a lot of other things. I write in newspapers about various issues. I am interested in child education, so we have an NGO called QUEST (Quality Education Support Trust)***. I am chairman of that NGO, so there are a lot decisions to be taken and things to be done for that. I have a piece of land in a very remote area which we bought when it was a barren land. In the last five or six years we have planted about 800 trees in that land even though it is quite a difficult terrain. So that also demands time. In fact, ‘Valu’ has a shot of that area: the “windmill shot”. I own the land just next to the windmill...  I travel a lot when I get a chance in India and outside India. Of course then there is reading, watching films and theatre and spending time with friends and things like that. Normal things.
HCB - Is there anything you can share with us about your ongoing and future projects?

AK - I’ll start shooting for a film in August. It is a wonderful and a very lighthearted script. I am really looking forward to it. It is in Hindi and I will be working with Mr. Naseeruddin Shah and Mr. Kay Kay Menon.

* 'Devrai' (Sacred Grove 2005) is a definite must-see that has been highly appreciated as one of Marathi cinema's brightest pearls, winning 15 regional, national and international awards. It is directed by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar and features an outstanding Atul Kulkarni starring opposite Sonali Kulkarni. The film has sought to demystify schizophrenia and has donated all of the release's proceeds to the Schizophrenia Awareness Association. Highly recommended.

* 'Vanaprastham' (The Last Dance 1999) Internationally acclaimed and award-winning Malayalam film directed by Shaji N. Karun. The film tackles the caste system through the life of a tremendously gifted dancer, portrayed by Mohanlal opposite Suhasini Mani Ratnam.  

** QUEST (Quality Education Support Trust) is an NGO comprising educationsts and people from numerous professional backgrounds who are dedicated to research and action in view of enhancing the quality of education for every individual. QUEST develops educational programmes in Maharashtra and Karnataka. For more information, visit

Directed by: Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni.
Produced by: Mukta Arts/Malpix Films

Starring: Atul Kulkarni, Mohan Agashe, Girish Kulkarni, Veena Jamkar, Nandu Madhav, Mangesh Satpute and Amruta Subhash
Screenwriting: Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, Girish Pandurang Kulkarni
Executive Producer: Nitin Vaidya
Language: Marathi
Year of Release: 2008
Music: Mangesh Dhakde


Another Kiran In NYC said...

The interview rocks! Is directing or production in Atul Kulkarni's future?

Aline CineHindi said...

Hello Kiran,
Sorry to be responding so late. I definitely would love to know if Atul Kulkarni wishes to direct or produce, what a good question. In any case, the Hindi Cinema Blog absolutely loves his work and we are very glad to have had the opportunity to speak to such a fine actor and interesting human being.

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