November 12, 2001


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Mahesh Manjerekar

Mahesh Manjrekar is a man of many talents. You've got to be gifted to be an actor, scriptwriter and director, all rolled in one.

From his stint in Marathi films to Bollywood's most hard-hitting blockbusters, he has come a long way. But Mahesh yearns for more.

Bharati Dubey caught up with him on the sets of his upcoming sequel to Vaastav, to get the lowdown on Tera Mera Saath Rahen, which releases on November 15 and to figure out what makes the man tick.

What is the genesis of Tera Mera Saath Rahen?

In 1989, I wrote two episodes on a relationship for a television serial I intended to make. I later realised that serials were not my cup of tea; I wanted to be a filmmaker.

I made my first film in Marathi called Aai in 1994. And it was then that I actually completed the script of this film. But, I needed to construct a set which would've had been two-and-a-half times the cost of Aai. So, I decided to put the script aside and thought of producing it someday; no producer would want to be associated with it. After all, it was a film based on handicapped children.

The story is about a boy suffering from cerebral palsy. A young child in my neighborhood inspired me. A close friend also has a special child.

The script finally took shape only after I decided to incorporate multi-layered relationships without veering away from the main subject.

Your upcoming projects feature action heroes of the 90's who have been hoping to change their image -- Ajay Devgan and Suniel Shetty. They haven't met with much success in their new avatars. Do you think you'll be able to work the magic for them?

I must tell you that I'm not here to cater to any actor's image. Besides, I don't think the audience ever branded them as 'action heroes'. The actor's felt that as their forte was action sequences, they'd stick to action-oriented films. The truth is that a majority of their films as action heroes flopped. So, there is no real reason for the public to accept them as action heroes. Unfortunately, actors are victims of their own image. Tera Mera Saath Rahen

Ajay has always been an intense actor. All I had to do was to exploit his intensity, to the optimum.

Suniel Shetty, with his stunning performance in Ehsaas will knock the socks of the cynic's feet. The audience must be prepared for a surprise. You have to rate Suniel as one of the best actors in the industry.

When I narrate a story to the actors, many are afraid that it won't gel with their image, "Mere mould mein jaati nahin" . Little do they realise that they are building their own creative coffin. Most of them are scared of how the public will react, the people's opinion. Some are most concerned about their looks. In the industry today, only few actors are worthy of being called actors. And they are the ones who have been churning out good work consistently.

I admit that today's actors are willing to experiment; that wasn't the case three years back. No one wanted to take the risk of trying something different. But, they are still a minority.

Tell us more about the little kid who plays the special child in Tera Mera Saath Rahen?

His name is Dushyant Wagh. He is a well-known face in children's theatre circles. The role, he was offered, would be difficult to essay for the leading actors of today. He had to play a mentally challenged boy, with his sensibilities.

Dushyant trained for the part. He has gone past my wildest expectations. He is a genius.

Was Pratibimb, the sequel to Vaastav, planned?

It wasn't a planned affair. I was in London working out the look of a certain film, when I suddenly wanted to know what happened to Raghu's family. Vaastav

What became of his brother Mohnish, who got a job because Raghu threatened the proprietor of a firm? What of his parents, his wife, his family? Did they all die after Raghu's death?

That is exactly how the sequel was born. It does not remain the story of Rohit (Raghu's son); many new characters are added to the storyline.

The story is set 32 years later, and I have consciously tried not to jump Rohit's early years, to highlight the problems he faces in society.

I hope to wrap-up by February 2002, as the film is slated for a July 2002 release.

But sequels haven't really worked in Bollywood, have they?

There are no sequels made in the industry except for a trilogy by Satyajit Ray. But I'm not even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as him. There is no comparison.

Someone did make a sequel to Nagin, but it turned out to be more of a film on the snakes rather than a sequel.

Making a sequel is a big risk. You have to keep in mind audiences who may not have seen the original. So one has to write a story that will not puzzle the public. To begin to do that, you better have faith in yourself.

What was the experience working on Kaante like?

I enjoyed it thoroughly. Honestly, I never thought I'd have so much fun. I was facing the camera after eight years. The last time was for a television serial.

When I was asked to do the role, I thought the director was pulling my leg. Why would anyone want to sign Mahesh Manjrekar? Mahesh Manjrekar doesn't sell; he doesn't have any face value.Namrata Shirodkar and Mahesh Manjerekar

But the director was very keen that I act. I decided that I'd give it a shot and once I started shooting I was hooked.

We had the best of everything. I received my dates a year in advance. I was required only for one schedule; I had the chance to work with sync sound and had opportunities to see foreign technicians at work from very close quarters. Also I got a chance to work with the biggest icon of the film industry Amitabh Bachchan, my best friend Sanjay Dutt and a host of talented stars.

Sanjay Dutt was so impressed by your performance that in a recent interview he said that you were the show stealer?

Sanjay is a good friend; he wouldn't say bad things about me. But, in all honesty, I haven't done a bad job.

The audiences, at least, will not be disappointed; they won't say that I stood out like a sore thumb.

Is Pitaah based on caste conflicts?

Not really. It's about oppression, about the Zamindari system. It is about how people are still slaves in our country. It's about people who treat labourers like cattle.

Was Nandita your first choice for Pitaah?

No, Tabu was. But she had date problems.

But Tabu complains that you've been ignoring her?Mahesh and Tabu on the sets of Astitva

Tabu is a dear friend, she has the right to complain; we keep having our fights.

I was peeved with her when she refused to do Pitaah. She knows when I have the best role, I will go to her.

Why didn't you cast Tabu in the English version of Astitva?

She did a perfect job in the film. I wouldn't want her to outdo herself. It is for my own good that I am trying to use someone else.

Perhaps I want to see something else in that role. I might cast her in a role that will put her far ahead of what she did in Astitva.

Will she be working in Aai?

I do not know. I am not the director, Sanjay Jha is. He has been an assistant to Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Bunty Luthria. He could be one of the best directors, we've seen yet.

Aren't you afraid that with the amount of work you have taken on, the quality will suffer?

The day I realise my work is suffering, I will retire. I am a complete workaholic. All my films look different, I know the scripts of all my films byheart. I don't need to look at a script when I have to give the actor his cues. I know exactly what I want. Mahesh Manjerekar

I have the energy and if actors can do 10 films at the same time and see that their quality of work does not suffer, why can't I?

I have learnt to space out schedules. I've always started a new film only after 70 per cent of the previous film has been completed.

Ehsaas makes way for Tera Mera Saath Rahen
The music review

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