The reluctant comeback: Ashutosh Gowariker talks about returning to acting after 18 years with 'Ventilator'

Oct 23, 2016, 08:44 IST | Anju Maskeri

The role of Raja Kamerkar in Rajesh Mapuskar's Marathi film 'Ventilator', produced by Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, is making the director Ashutosh Gowariker hungry for more

Ashutosh Gowarikar and Rajesh Mapuskar, director marathi movie Ventilator at Novatel in Juhu. Pics/Atul Kamble
Ashutosh Gowarikar and Rajesh Mapuskar, director marathi movie Ventilator at Novatel in Juhu. Pics/Atul Kamble

On the first day of reading the script of Ventilator, I was a bundle of nerves, because I had completely lost touch with memorising lines,' says Ashutosh Gowariker. 'But nobody else knows this,' he adds with a laugh. The pounding heartbeat and butterflies in the tummy were natural. After all, the 52-year-old filmmaker was returning to the silver screen as an actor after 18 years. His last major role was as Imran in the 1994 Kundan Shah directed, Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na. This, Gowariker followed up with an episode in the hit television series CID in 1999. And now, he’s set to make his comeback with Marathi film, Ventilator. Produced by actor Priyanka Chopra and directed by Rajesh Mapuskar of Ferrari Ki Sawari fame, the film premieres at the Mumbai Film Festival on November 4.

So, when we meet Gowariker and Mapuskar on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Juhu’s Novotel, it happens to be the day when the film’s trailer has just released. 'Look, Boman Irani has tweeted it,' says a visibly thrilled Mapuskar as he plays the trailer on his phone for us. Gowariker, dressed in a crisp white shirt and jeans, appears excited, but is wary of the word comeback. 'When you say comeback, it means the person has a lot of desire to come back. But, I never wanted to get back to acting, although it is my first love and I began my career with it,' he says. Gowariker’s acting career boasts of roles in Ketan Mehta’s 1985 drama, Holi, Naam (1986), Gunj (1989) and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989).

Yet, when Mapuskar approached the Lagaan maker, Gowariker gently pushed him away, despite liking the script. 'Initially, I thought it was to produce, but when he said he wanted me as an actor, I was taken aback. At that time I was still wrapping up Mohenjo Daro and it would take me another four months to finish, hoping this would have him packing off,' he says. But, Mapuskar wasn’t one to let go without a fight. 'I only had Ashutosh in mind for the role. And I was ready to do whatever it takes to convince him. I wanted an actor with no baggage, but someone tall, with a personality,' says the 44-year-old.

A still from Ventilator, that also stars Sulabha Arya (right)
A still from Ventilator, that also stars Sulabha Arya (right)

After five months, much to Gowariker’s surprise, Mapuskar returned. Gowariker says the thought of getting distracted from direction kept him away. Mapuskar says Gowariker even insisted on an audition hoping that he’d be rejected. However, what sealed the deal was a phone call from Priyanka Chopra, who had featured in Gowariker’s 2009 fiction What’s Your Raashee? 'She said, ‘Hey, you know, I’m producing the film that Rajesh is talking about. I know you’re still thinkin’ about it. Come on, let’s do this,’' says Gowariker, aping Chopra’s twang.

Gowariker plays filmmaker Raja Kamerkar and the story revolves around an ailing senior member of his family who is being put on the ventilator just days before the Ganpati festival. 'It is about how the family reconnects and rediscovers each other in a time of tragedy.' The journey of a filmmaker who loses touch with his family after attaining fame as a top-notch director is something Gowariker related to. That, however, he admits didn’t make the role any easier to play. 'Acting is tough. You need to be in a different kind of mental space. Which is why I insisted on having readings with the cast before shooting so that on the first day on the sets I wouldn’t be caught on the wrong foot,' he says.

Ventilator’s cast includes Boman Irani Sukanya Kulkarni, Usha Nadkarni and Rahul Solapurkar among others. It has 116 Marathi actors. 'But, Rajesh is adept at capturing emotions and relationships, bringing them all in one space. He enjoys that, as is evident in Ferrari Ki Sawari,' says Gowariker, who never interfered with the script. 'At most, my contribution was the intensity of the take, which is a very actor-director job.'

The film also happens to be Mapuskar’s debut with Marathi cinema. 'Before Shwaas (2004), which got nominated for the Oscars, the Marathi film industry itself was on a ventilator. Then a spate of films like Valu, Timepass, Fandry, Dundyadaari, Lai Bhaari and Sairat paved the way for filmmakers like me.' Gowariker, on his part, is back to working on a couple of scripts as a filmmaker after his last outing, the Hrithik Roshan-Pooja Hegde-starrer Mohenjo Daro tanked at the box office. 'I still love direction. However, today, when I look back, I thank my stars that I said yes to Ventilator. But, now that I have done this, I look forward to more experimental roles,' he smiles.

On the first day of reading the script of Ventilator, I was a bundle of nerves, because I had completely lost touch with memorising lines,' says Ashutosh Gowariker. 'But nobody else knows this,' he adds with a laugh. The pounding heartbeat and butterflies in the tummy were natural. After all, the 52-year-old filmmaker was returning to the silver screen as an actor after 18 years. His last major role was as Imran in the 1994 Kundan Shah directed, Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na. This, Gowariker followed up with an episode in the hit television series CID in 1999. And now, he’s set to make his comeback with Marathi film, Ventilator. Produced by actor Priyanka Chopra and directed by Rajesh Mapuskar of Ferrari Ki Sawari fame, the film premieres at the Mumbai Film Festival on November 4.

So, when we meet Gowariker and Mapuskar on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Juhu’s Novotel, it happens to be the day when the film’s trailer has just released. 'Look, Boman Irani has tweeted it,' says a visibly thrilled Mapuskar as he plays the trailer on his phone for us. Gowariker, dressed in a crisp white shirt and jeans, appears excited, but is wary of the word comeback. 'When you say comeback, it means the person has a lot of desire to come back. But, I never wanted to get back to acting, although it is my first love and I began my career with it,' he says. Gowariker’s acting career boasts of roles in Ketan Mehta’s 1985 drama, Holi, Naam (1986), Gunj (1989) and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989).

Yet, when Mapuskar approached the Lagaan maker, Gowariker gently pushed him away, despite liking the script. 'Initially, I thought it was to produce, but when he said he wanted me as an actor, I was taken aback. At that time I was still wrapping up Mohenjo Daro and it would take me another four months to finish, hoping this would have him packing off,' he says. But, Mapuskar wasn’t one to let go without a fight. 'I only had Ashutosh in mind for the role. And I was ready to do whatever it takes to convince him. I wanted an actor with no baggage, but someone tall, with a personality,' says the 44-year-old.

After five months, much to Gowariker’s surprise, Mapuskar returned. Gowariker says the thought of getting distracted from direction kept him away. Mapuskar says Gowariker even insisted on an audition hoping that he’d be rejected. However, what sealed the deal was a phone call from Priyanka Chopra, who had featured in Gowariker’s 2009 fiction What’s Your Raashee? 'She said, ‘Hey, you know, I’m producing the film that Rajesh is talking about. I know you’re still thinkin’ about it. Come on, let’s do this,’' says Gowariker, aping Chopra’s twang.

Gowariker plays filmmaker Raja Kamerkar and the story revolves around an ailing senior member of his family who is being put on the ventilator just days before the Ganpati festival. 'It is about how the family reconnects and rediscovers each other in a time of tragedy.'  The journey of a filmmaker who loses touch with his family after attaining fame as a top-notch director is something Gowariker related to. That, however, he admits didn’t make the role any easier to play. 'Acting is tough. You need to be in a different kind of mental space. Which is why I insisted on having readings with the cast before shooting so that on the first day on the sets I wouldn’t be caught on the wrong foot,' he says.

Ventilator’s cast includes Boman Irani Sukanya Kulkarni, Usha Nadkarni and Rahul Solapurkar among others. It has 116 Marathi actors. 'But, Rajesh is adept at capturing emotions and relationships, bringing them all in one space. He enjoys that, as is evident in Ferrari Ki Sawari,' says Gowariker, who never interfered with the script. 'At most, my contribution was the intensity of the take, which is a very actor-director job.'

The film also happens to be Mapuskar’s debut with Marathi cinema. 'Before Shwaas (2004), which got nominated for the Oscars, the Marathi film industry itself was on a ventilator. Then a spate of films like Valu, Timepass, Fandry, Dundyadaari, Lai Bhaari and Sairat paved the way for filmmakers like me.' Gowariker, on his part, is back to working on a couple of scripts as a filmmaker after his last outing, the Hrithik Roshan-Pooja Hegde-starrer Mohenjo Daro tanked at the box office. 'I still love direction. However, today, when I look back, I thank my stars that I said yes to Ventilator. But, now that I have done this, I look forward to more experimental roles,' he smiles.

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