Actor Sandesh Kulkarni who is currently seen in ‘Mumbai Diaries 26/11’ on Amazon Prime as ACP Tawde, is garnering accolades from audiences and critics for his impactful role in the show. Kulkarni has done notable work in Marathi films which include ‘Gulmohar’, ‘Coffee Ani Barach Kahi’, and is best known for his work in Hindi features such as ‘Rocky Handsome’, ‘Sacred Games’, ‘Hundred’, and British Drama – ‘The Good Karma Hospital’. In an exclusive conversation with outloot, Sandesh Kulkarni walks about playing a variety of characters on screen, his early days and the struggle that goes into being an actor and also throws light on the challenges that one has to face during the process. Excerpts:
How is it playing ACP Tawde in ‘Mumbai Diaries’ and what challenges do you face playing the role on screen?
It was a wonderful thing to perform in an ensemble cast where everyone is talented. I had a nice graph for my character ACP Tawde and thanks to the writers had some wonderful lines. I shout 'Ye mera Sheher hai' (This is my city) and fire at the terrorists. This was like a dream scene, as I always fancied as a child to play the police and fire at the villains. Also, I have formed lifetime friendships here. Shreya Dhanvantari and I had a lot of fun on the sets.
My challenge at that time was that I was going through clinical depression. I also had vertigo. Pulling off an angry hot-headed Tawade when your internal world is depressed was a challenge and I pat myself on the back for that. I remember it was my first day of the shoot and I was frozen like a deer in front of the headlights. It was the entry scene where ACP Tawde comes running down the stairs and stops to talk to Dr. Subramanium on phone. When you are in depression all your faculties are not sharp. Especially if there is a rush. Also, the sudden running down the stairs accentuated my vertigo. I just got blank and freezing on the stairs forgot my lines. There had to be retakes and I started panicking more with each take. The embarrassment of forgetting your lines in front of the entire unit is like being stuck at the signal when your car breaks down, the traffic light is green and people are honking their horns for you to move on. I had to take deep breaths and use all my mental energy to get the lines right. Finally, I managed to complete it, thankfully for the police who were exhausted running up and down the stairs for each take. My biggest victory was that I had stopped smoking at that time and did not smoke even after the exhausting scene when my entire being was craving for a drag.
Will you give us some insight into your process as an actor?
As an actor, I submit to the director and his vision. Once I understand that I align myself with the demand of the script and the scene. Once you submit to your character and allow it to play through you, it does things you had not imagined you would do. In that sense, acting is like losing your ego and giving space for the other character. In theatre, it is easier because we have a lot of rehearsals to perform the scene with different attitudes and see which feels best. In films, it is slightly difficult if you do not have enough table readings. Here you rely on the director's feedback as he has the entire script in his mind. I love doing all genres. I have done realistic drama's and I am very good at humour too. I would also like to do villains as they have many grey shades and are fun to play
Tell us about working with Raj Kaushal on the sets of the upcoming show 'Akkad Bakkad.'
Raj was a dear friend and that's the reason I did the series. It's a pain to write he 'was' ...He showered everyone around him with his energy and love. He was the first one to like any of my posts. He trusted me more than I did. He always said, "Sir, I know you are a genius and the world will know it soon". He would have been so happy to see the reception of my role as ACP Tawde. He was all charged up and passionate about his first OTT series. He was very fast on sets and knew exactly what he wanted from any scene. That's the reason he could complete scenes on a crowded bus stand in Chanderi. He would fold his hands to the crowd and request them not to look in the camera and give his charming smile. That was all that was required. We shot with two cameras and moved on before the crowd became restless. He was also the life of the party post-shooting. I asked him how does he bring so much energy? He said " Sir, I have a lot of hunger. Bahot kuch Karna Hai(there’s a lot that I want to do)"... I still can't believe he will not be with us.
Tell us about your future projects.
I have done my friend Raj Kaushal's series 'Akkad Bakkad' which will come on Amazon Prime. Here I play a journalist. I Have also completed a feature film 'Privacy' written and directed by Sudeep Kanwal, produced by Shlok Sharma. In Privacy, I play the Chief Surveillance Officer. I experienced filmmaking in the South with my sister Sonali. I accompanied Sonali for her film 'Cheluvi' directed by Girish Karnad. The DOP was Rajiv Menon who did Mani Ratnam's 'Bombay' and 'Guru'. I was with her for the Tamil film 'May Madham' where the DOP was P.C Shreeram! I and P.C sir used to play antakshari of extempore poems! These are legends and it was an exciting experience to witness their work. The south industry is very disciplined and I was amazed at the simplicity of many stars. There are so many films coming from the south that get remade in Hindi. You can have 'Bahubali' and you can also have 'Great Indian Kitchen.' It's a big range and they excel in all types of making from commercial to art cinema. There are many interesting filmmakers in the south and I am eager to work with any of them. I am reaching out to them and hope they will read this interview and know about my interest.
Tell us about your struggle and what encouraged you to pursue acting as a career.
It started from doing plays at Ganesh festivals in our society as a kid. My brother used to write and direct. The whole environment was magical and full of energy. Then my brother showed me two plays in my hometown Pune- One was 'Tughlaq 'by Girish Karnad and directed by Satydev Dubey and the second was 'Mahanirvan' by Satish Alekar. Both plays had a deep impact on my taste in theatre. Then after doing one-act play competitions in college I started my group 'Samanvay'. This was formed by youngsters who had participated in Pt. Satyadev Dubey's workshop. In Samanvay we did a lot of plays that were performed in various festivals across India. Sonali Kulkarni, my sister and Amruta Subhash, my wife, were all part of ‘Samanvay’. Here we interacted with stalwarts like Vijay Tendulkar, Makesh Elkunchwar and I directed their plays. Their friendship helped me see life beyond theatre too. I also went to Royal Court Theatre, London for International Writers Residency on Charles Wallace Scholarship. I have written and directed a play 'Phirse Honeymoon' which I performed with Amruta at Prithvi.
What's your take on the rise of OTT platforms, has it been beneficial for you as an actor, and are they replacing the old-school theatre vibe for the audience?
I feel blessed to be in the OTT boom. It has opened up doors for all creative persons. Earlier the actor who did not get films had to depend on the TV for his survival. The TV does not explore new content. So the actor did not get to show his real ability nor did the writers. The digital medium is bringing a variety of content. It had made the content democratic. Now anyone can tell his or her story and there is a platform to listen to it. Even if you do not get an OTT you can showcase yourself on youtube. With the increase in platforms, many artists are getting noticed. I would say it is like the IPL for cricket. We get to know many new players because of the IPL who would never have been otherwise noticed.