Bhai - Vyakti ki Valli opened to rave reviews, applause and as with most movies, some very scathing criticism too from families of legendary singers like Hirabai Badodekar and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. While at a city multiplex to promote the second part of the movie, Mahesh Manjrekar cleared the air. “When you make a biopic, you have your own vision. It is not necessary everybody will agree with it. PuLa was a happy-go-lucky man. We’ve tried to portray his character with utmost sincerity. I don’t expect everyone to like my movies. To each his own. All I say is don’t question my freedom of expression. Even I have my opinions when I watch a biopic. But I don’t expect others to think like me,” he said.
Veteran singer Prabha Atre had accused the filmmakers of ‘character assassination’ of her guru Hirabai Badodekar. Speaking about the criticism, he explained, “These are all legends, including Prabha Atre. We want to pay respect to legends of that era. Such great personalities, in fact each one of them, deserves a biopic. But this movie is not about them. By replying to such allegations, I don’t want to disrespect anyone.”
A lot of research had gone into the making of this movie. It belongs to an era where there was no envy and art was genuinely appreciated. Mahesh urges people to focus on the good things. “It was a walk on the razor’s edge. The intent was to bring out PuLa’s greatness and depict his personality traits. There are photos of PuLa with a cigarette in his hand in the magazine Chitramay... I don’t think it reflects badly on him. Nor does having one drink make him an alcoholic,” he argued.
Vijay Kenkre, who was present at the event and will be portraying an older PuLa in the Uttarardh or the second part, felt criticism should be constructive and only then can we have healthy discussions. He pointed out, “If I don’t drink, does that make me a saint?”
Mahesh feels social media is playing a big role in fuelling unnecessary debates and controversies. Earlier, this kind of a platform didn’t exist. But now anybody and everybody is a critic. While he’s okay with people commenting on the creative aspect of the craft, he feels that sometimes, the comments get too personal. The making of the movie was pretty challenging especially since PuLa never wrote an autobiography. Mahesh had read Ahe Manohar tari (the book written by Sunitabai) and seen PuLa through Sunitabai’s eyes. “A lot of people, who knew PuLa, didn’t know that he was married before. His first wife died soon after the wedding. That’s why the scene of eating pomegranate; it was very important for me to shoot that scene with utmost sensitivity. Because there was no mention about what had happened,” he explained. PuLa’s life was not very dramatic and was completely devoid of scandals or controversies. “It was the story of a simple man and I wanted to narrate it with simplicity,’ he added.
The actors have received a lot of appreciation, esp ecially Sagar Deshmukh for his accurate portrayal of PuLa. Surprisingly, he didn’t find it difficult at all since he believed in the vision of Mahesh.
While Mahesh was totally convinced of casting Irawati Harshe from the very beginning, he was not able to see Sagar as PuLa. “Neither me nor Vikram Gaikwad felt so. He has retained my persona as well. It is the essence of the character that matters, though I did try to emulate his body language and mannerisms. We knew what a fine performer he was. Through this movie, I got to know him as a person,” explained Sagar.
Shubhangi Damle, who will be playing the older Sunitabai in Uttarardh, too was well aware of the persona she was portraying. “She was frank and straightforward. She was more like an anchor - strong and level-headed. Although I am very different as a person, it was easy to follow the vision of the writers and the director,” Shubhangitai said.
A little weary of Hindi cinema, Mahesh is happy that Bollywood too has started focusing on content-rich movies. He however wants to make a movie on the Marathi poet Namdeo Dhasal. He is intrigued by Dhasal’s character, since it has all the elements necessary to make a great biopic and feels that his is a story that needs to be told.
Has the streaming giant Netflix shown interest in Marathi movies? “It is a good phase for Marathi cinema and I’ll do my best to ensure that my movie reaches a greater audience. PuLa’s body of work is so vast, that one could make a 7-8 part web series,” Mahesh concludes.