By Utpal Borpujari
When news comes that Amol Palekar has directed one more film, it demands attention. Simply because this everyman’s-actor-turned-the-thinking-man’s-filmmaker makes movies that are intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking, sometimes provocative and immensely enjoyable, that is if one does believe that entertainment need not necessarily be mindless.
But his latest film Samaantar (Parallel Folds) calls for a much bigger welcome than many of his earlier films. The reason is: with this film, Amol Palekar has returned to the front of the camera after nearly a quarter of a century, 24 years to be precise, if one negates his blink-it-and-you-miss-it appearance in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s debut film Aks (2001). The last time he had adorned the grease paint was in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh (1985), a murder mystery in which he played himself, and the villain, in what probably remains the only instance when an Indian actor has played a murderer while being himself on the screen. More importantly, Palekar is acting in a self-directed film after 25 years. The last time he did it was in Ankahee (Hindi, 1984), his second film as a director, the first being Akriet (Marathi, 1981), in which too he had acted in the lead role.
Samaantar will be Palekar’s 12th film as a director, if one includes the completed but yet to be released children’s fable Dum Kata. Palekar, whose forte as a director has been to look at man-woman relationship and woman’s sexuality through a series of Hindi and Marathi films which include Anaahat, Daayraa, Thodasa Roomani Ho Jayen, Dhyaas Parva, Paheli, Bangarwadi, Kairee and Thaang, has once again taken up another sensitive tale in Samaantar. Through its story of an ageing businessman whose busy public life is in contrast with his lonely personal space, and how he enters a new phase in his life by accidentally coming into contact with his past flame (played by the graceful Sharmila Tagore), this film once again could be expected to showcase Palekar’s sensitivity as a director.
It was what he calls the “fascinating” character of Keshav Vaze, the ageing businessman at the centre of his wife Sandhya Gokhale’s screenplay, that made Palekar forego his years of reticence in facing the camera. “The script was very tight, very precise, very poignant and lyrical. And the character of Vaze really, really fascinated me. He is a person who is at the peak of success and is in full control of everything. But at the end of the day, when he retires to his bedroom, he is all alone. This one line, you can imagine, is full of so many possibilities – the melancholy, the outer world not knowing it, he going through it with smile and finesse – really, after a long time I had this urge that I should do this role. My first, instant reaction was that, and that is why I am acting,” says Palekar, who admits that all these years he had been neglecting the “actor” Amol Palekar and giving more importance to the “director” Amol Palekar.
With a talented cast, comprising the likes of Kishor Kadam, Makarand Deshpande and Radhika Apte, Samaantar, as Gokhale describes it, is about parallel journeys individuals often travel to find lost traces of their past, as well as parallel thought processes in the mind that exist together but rarely meet. “As you grow older, probably you see people more introspective of life than when you are actually struggling through your survival. Probably somewhere as a human being I have become more introspective, and that must have been reflected in this story,” says Gokhale, who points out that this is the first script that she has written completely in Marathi. “Usually I write in English, and then write the dialogues in the language in which Amol-ji decides to make the film in,” says Gokhale, who is also the co-director of the film.
Both Palekar and Gokhale feel that regional cinema audiences are more open to fresh ideas in their cinema, which was also a reason why they decided to make this film in Marathi. But at the same time, the story is such that it would transcend linguistic boundaries. “That is why we releasing this film outside Maharashtra, starting with metros like Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore, with English subtitles, just as we did it with Anaahat,” says Gokhale.
With Big Pictures taking up the distribution of the film, Palekar is a much-relieved man. As he puts it, “They (Big Picturs) need to be congratulated for the way they are taking the film all over India. This is their first regional film and if this step goes well it will open up all new avenues for regional cinema. Very honestly, we know how to make a good, sensitive, technically-excellent film, but we are not experts in marketing. Not only that, we get so exhausted making a film that we have no energy left, we have no financial muscle to market and promote a film. This is a really good support and something like this can only help in the betterment of the whole scenario of Indian cinema.”
Incidentally, Palekar and Tagore has earlier acted together in only one film, called Mother (Bengali) in the 1970s. Doesn’t that make their pairing again after so many years interesting? “Her character requires a person with grace, poise, dignity, tremendous strength in choosing the kind of life she wants to lead, all this with immense charm. This is all Sharmila Tagore, and nobody else. She does not speak much, but so much eloquence every moment without speaking. She was the person Sandhya had in mind while writing the script and also my instant suggestion when I read the script. And she agreed instantly,” says Palekar.
Talking of acting, will he be open to more acting assignments now that he has again acted in a film? Palekar is quite clear on that front, “I am not at all averse to acting, but I am also not eager to act, nor am I dying to act. If there is something equally interesting, exciting, challenging, I will do it again.” To which Gokhale quips, “He has been saying that for last 25 years, and I think he has made up his mind not to act, because there have been some beautiful roles offered to him first, and he kept on saying no. So I believe he does not want to act!”
Meanwhile, Palekar’s fans are waiting eagerly for the release of Dum Kata, which he describes as his tribute to Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee, the two directors who gave Indian cinema the much-believable common man hero through numerous very successful, middle-of-the-road movies in the shape of Palekar in the 1970s and 1980s when the larger-than-life Amitabh Bachchan was ruling the roost. “Hopefully it will be released soon. It has got a very interesting theme. It’s my homage to Hrishi-da and BAsu-da. That’s one valid and good enough reason to make a film,” says the director.
(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 06-09-09)