In conversation with award winning Marathi film actress Veena Jamkar for her film TAPAAL, directed by Bollywood's renowned cinematographer-turned-director, Laxman Utekar. Here are the excerpts:
How you became a part of TAPAAL?
I got a call from producer Mangesh Hadawale, whose film TINGYA I had watched. He said that ENGLISH VINGLISH DOP is making a debut in direction with Mararthi film TAPAAL. I was extremely excited because we have seen ENGLISH VINGLISH and really loved his work. I was thoroughly impressed. At that time I was like when we will get to work with such talents. So when Mangesh told that he suggested my name to Laxman, I was on cloud nine. It was like dream come true.
Did Laxman's Bollywood background attract you to sign TAPAAL?
I don't believe that if you will work with a Bollywood personality then it will pave the way for you. I just believe that you keep doing good work and whatever is best for you will come to you. When I first met Laxman and the way he narrated me the story, I realized that he is not only a good cameraman but also a sensible director. A lot depends on the way a director narrates his story. I was game for it. The film shaped up very well. I was curious to work with Laxman because his work is damn good not because he is from Hindi film industry.
Were you apprehensive working with DOP-turned-director Laxman Utekar?
On the contrary; I was excited that I was first time working with a cinematographer turned director. Moreover, I have worked with lot of first time directors and my experience with them has been really good. It's easy to judge a person and his sensibilities. So it didn't take much time for me to realize that Laxman was making something exceptional.
Very few people have that capability of telling you or guiding you in right direction or narrating the story well. People like Mahesh Manjrekar are such. He never gives the script to his actors because then the actors will come prepared, which he doesn't like at all. He thinks actor should be spontaneous on the sets. Likewise, Laxman also narrates in a way that gives you a scope to understand your character/role best… And the best part was Laxman single-handedly did everything, which was quite surprising. From doing the camera work to being a director to guiding everyone, that was very interesting…He was very energetic. Even after handling so many tasks he was calm and composed in his work. He never abused or lost his temper.
We heard TAPAAL was made in the scorching heat of May. Share us about the experience of shooting in such conditions?
The film was shot in Junnar in the scorching heat of April-May. I almost finished 3-4 bottles of sun tan lotion behind it. I used to get up at 4 in the morning for make-up thing because we wanted to shoot in a particular light and obviously for hot climate reasons we had to complete it earlier. In the afternoons, Laxman used to shoot indoors only. Sometimes the shoot locations were very pretty far, so we had to travel all the way to the interiors. We always respected our director's time. We never had that sort of problem because Marathi actresses are pretty sincere. Since they have come from theatre background, they know how to adjust with situations and people without throwing any starry tantrums. There is a scene where we (Nandu Sir and I) are beaten up for hardly 2 minutes or so, but the shoot started from morning and got over only by evening. We did so many takes that eventually we sat at the same spot under the sun, in the mud until we completed it perfectly. Despite adverse conditions, we did it with full spirit and with Nandu Sir being there it was a light-hearted environment.
How was the experience of shooting in a small village?
It was good. Junnar is one of the most beautiful villages of Maharashtra. It has that old archaic look like stone-built walls and wooden doors. People were really helpful. They used to feed us with missal pav, maas wadi and we skipped shooting ka khana too for that. Sometimes we used to visit their houses to do the make-up. They enjoyed the fact that the film was being shot there. People used to mob us. Since TAPAAL is based in 70s, we had to request them to hide the mobile towers, cover the branding.
Talk about your look in the film?
Since I have been married for 13 years and play a middle-age village woman in the film, so I had look little older with tanned skin. We did 2-3 look tests also. The special part of this look was the jewellery and saree draped in a peculiar style. It was a bit unique thing because the look that has been done depicts Laxman's village's culture. I haven't worn such style of saree ever even in my other Marathi films. It looked quite real!
Any striking incident during the shooting which you would like to share with us?
I remember there's a scene in the film where I had to rub on dung on a basket. Laxman came to me and plainly said that I have to hold the actual dung and apply it. I was just observing how do I begin and he assumed that I am feeling awkward or hesitant in doing it. So he came to me and asked if I'll do it or should he show how it is to be done. I was okay doing it as I have seen my mother doing it during my childhood. We didn't have flooring, so we used to spread over it with cow dung.
Since your dialogues were chopped off at last minute, what was your reaction like?
I was initially shell shocked and confused. But again it was a challenge for me to perform or emote without dialogues. Laxman explained me about the characters and the logic behind it. He said having married for 13 years without child, how much she will fight with people? What new complaints she would put forward to her husband? Which is quite right. The more she would be silent, the more she would emote. So I prepared accordingly. It was great on Laxman's part. He told me in well advance. He respects all his actors and a very grounded person.
In what way you could connect with the film?
I could relate with the postman. I really thank Laxman and Nandu Sir for making me realize the importance of a postman. It's so surprising that we never paid attention to the man who was a connecting link for all of us. Especially, in earlier times a postman was an integral part of people's lives. We were so incomplete without him. Despite different climatic conditions he would travel from door-to-door to deliver the messages of our loved ones. Today, technologically we can connect anywhere but during the era of letters, there was exclusivity in relationships. There was patience and innocence. But today we have become very accessible and because of that we lost patience. When people will watch the film they will get surprised ki aisa koi aadmi tha jo sabko jodta tha. Today, post offices are getting shut, so at least we can pay tribute to them. We should remember them for their contribution.
TAPAAL has been a special film because of its story, the way it has come out and essentially my role, which is very poetic without dialogues. Working with such an amazing cast really makes a difference.
Do you have any personal memories related to 'Tapaal' or 'Postman' that you want to share?
I don't have memories related to Postman but I do get nostalgic with 'Tapaal' (letters). I remember when I was young, my brother, who used to stay in Madhya Pradesh (MP), had sent me a letter along with 10 Rs. for chocolate. I have still reserved it with me and have not even spent 10 Rs. I still cherish that moment.
Since the child in this film is not a professional actor and making his debut, how was it working with him?
They first day he seemed confused but the way he has acted is stunning. Unlike other kids, who are usually mischievous, Rohit was much decent, very cute and humble child.
You've already bagged an award (Best actress award at South Africa Film Festival) for this film, are you expecting some more?
It's good to win awards. But my real award is audience because they would never lie. I want them to appreciate and like it.
How would sum up the film?
It's a very cute, entertaining and innocent film. And I have been telling everyone that the USP of TAPAAL is its innocence. You will surely get nostalgic. TAPAAL is a kind of film that you will remember forever. There are many films that are good but they don't have any recall value. But TAPAAL is a film where you watch it once and you can never forget it.
Has anyone ever told you that you are a replica of Bollywood actress Vidya Balan? Can we say you are the Vidya Balan of Marathi film industry?
Yes many people have said that. We have same features, jawline structure. But she is senior to me and has done more films than me. When people compare it, I take it as compliment. She is my favourite. I liked her performance in KAHAANI and THE DIRTY PICTURE. She was the hero of the film. In fact she is Hindi Film Industry's Veena Jamkar (winks).