Amol Palekar: I owe it to my audience
As veteran actor Amol Palekar returns to stage after 25 years, he speaks of his three-point guide to picking new projects
It is the thrill of doing something "totally new" that has pushed Amol Palekar to give us all the beautiful movies that he has. His new play, Kusur – The Mistake, is no different. Written and co-directed by Sandhya Gokhale, the play is a social thriller, and "an experiment never seen before," according to her.
The play, an adaptation of Danish film Den Skyldige, sees Palekar's return to the stage after 25 years. It will be first staged at NCPA on November 24, the day Palekar turns 75. He plays the role of an ACP which is "extremely challenging, physically and emotionally, especially at this age," Palekar says, adding that even as the play is a thriller, it can be categorised into a niche socio-political genre. "In India, when you say political, one only imagines party politics. But that's not what this play is about; it has several layers to it that can open up to multiple issues," he explains, seated in his home-turned-studio in a quiet lane on Pune's Prabhat Road.
On what made him end his stage hiatus, Palekar says, "I am an actor by accident and director by choice. I hadn't acted in years. The reasons are many. Once I know that I have had a successful project—personally and for the audience—my interest in it vanishes. I, then, want to do something different. People love and respect me, which is overwhelming. I, therefore, believe that I owe them something, and this was my best possible chance—an extremely challenging script. It is nothing close to what I have done in the past."
But, even for the talented artiste, "unknown territory is always scary, especially when you are successful." It is his formative theatre days that have taught him to do it. Has it ever failed, his attempt at experimenting? "Very rarely, perhaps a couple of times: once with the 2013 Marathi movie Houn Jau Dya that I directed and with a French classic adaptation," he says. The couple of failures though were far too less in comparison with the numerous hits that the actor has delivered over the decades—from Chhoti Si Baat and Ankahee to Bhumika, Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaye and Apne Paraye.
What then does he look at in the projects he chooses?
Three things. "It has to offer something new, to me and to the audience. It has to say something about contemporary spaces, and very importantly, if it is not a progressive thought, it must at least not be a regressive one," says the man who insists that he "acts with conviction". And in that case, he does not want to take up something regressive and present it convincingly. That is "supremely dangerous."
Which brings us to his idea of contemporary spaces and standing up for the right causes. Palekar, who has more often than not challenged the establishment, says he is not against parties but against "atrocities committed by the establishment." From speaking against The Emergency to protesting the government's idea of censorship, he says he must be the "only man to have protested the maximum number of governments—Congress, BJP, Janta Dal and more."
On the current state of cinema, Palekar says the scene in India is once again where it was during the Renaissance period of the early 1970s. "We are once again making some path-breaking cinema, regional cinema is rising yet again, and movies are going beyond pure entertainment." The one disappointing bit though, for him with regard to regional cinema vis-à-vis Bollywood, is that the latter has trained us to look at art from an extremely commercial point of view. Citing an example of the Marathi hit Sairat, Palekar says that all that was spoken about the movie was its crossing the Rs 100-crore mark. "[Nagraj] Manjule has done some phenomenal work with that movie. It is his filmmaking that has turned a simple story into beauty. But no one spoke about that," he sighs, hoping that the way we look at art and cinema evolves for the better, sooner than later.
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