Thursday, August 14, 2008

Director’s Cut

Director Satish Rajwade’s sudden exit from the popular Marathi TV serial “Asambhav” has deprived a good story of its great story teller. Sudhir Raikar spoke to the unassuming talent whose innovative style statement in editing and direction marks a new chapter in Marathi entertainment.
At 34, Satish Rajwade wears the reassuring smile of a seasoned professional. He’s unassuming to the core, unfazed by success and controversies but ask him about his trade and the conviction comes alive in his gleaming eyes. “I love my work. Whatever little I have achieved till date has been the result of my unflinching devotion to my work. Nothing else matters”
Rajwade’s arrival in the entertainment industry seemed destined in an unlikely way, ever since he participated in an acting workshop in suburban Ville Parle as a kid of 12. School and college years were replete with awards and mementos that recognized his acting skills.
“I joined the commerce stream of Mithibai College only for its conducive theatre environment. Thanks to my passion, I acted in over 158 one-act plays in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarathi” He reveals.
His first tryst with success came in the form of the Marathi play “All the best” where his co-artiste was class mate Shreyas Talpade, long before the latter stuck gold in tinsel town. “It was director Mahesh Manjrekar, my mentor and well wisher, who was instrumental in offering me the Hindi version of “All the best”. The Marathi version followed, for a good 890 shows.”
During one of these shows, Rajwade won the attention of director Govind Nihalani’s crew. Before he knew, he bagged a role in Nihalani’s offbeat film “Sanshodhan” alongside the likes of Manoj Vajpayee. This was followed by two-bit roles in “Hazaar Chourasi ki Maa” and Manjrekar’s “Vastaav” and “Nidaan”. The association with Nihalani introduced Rajwade to the world of film editing and he found his purpose, waiting for him at the cross roads.
“I suddenly realized this is where the actual film happens. The sheer thrill ignited my passion and I began learning the ropes, assisting Nihalani as a trainee editor sans stipend and conveyance”
This marked the second innings of Rajwade – as a director. His debut happened through a music album “Na Jaane Kyun” starring model Samir Dharmadhikari. The album was well received and the producers, happy with the unexpected success, urged Rajwade to direct a Hindi film.
“I suggested a cost effective route in the form of a Marathi film – such that if it bombed, the loss, like the profit, would be lower. This argument got the buy-in and work on “Mrigjal” began.” But the cakewalk ended there.
Rajwade never realized “Mrigjal” could be such a litmus test of his tenacity. At the eleventh hour, he found his prospective screen play writers shying away. “In the heat of the moment, I wrote the story myself. If this was not enough, my cameraman did a vanishing act – I had to pull my personal contacts to rope in Suhas Gujarathi at the last minute”
Even as Rajwade took things in his stride with bated breath, “Mrigjal” bagged 23 awards including story, screenplay and cinematography – all products of accidental afterthought. This was the first grand proof of Rajwade’s genius.
“Mrigjal” won critical acclaim for Rajwade but the offers that followed were not heartening. They came either from fly-by-night operators trying to make hay or from one-time directors looking to utilize government grants, employing shoe-string budgets only to fill their pockets. Rajwade chose to stay away, at the cost of being without work for a substantial time. “It was my family that saw me through these difficult times. I owe my success to them”
Zee TV played his savior too, offering him serials like “Duniyadari” and “Oon Pawus”. Then “Asambhav” happened. And the rest is history.
Rarely has any Marathi serial won worldwide attention for the quality of its production. It was Rajwade’s astute direction and debutant Chinmay Mandlekar’s dialogues that has made “Asambhav” such a huge hit, even among non-maharashtrian households. For an audience nauseating in the overdose of mindless melodrama, “Asambhav” proved a breather. In a record achievement, it bagged five awards at the 33rd Radio and Television Advertising Practitioners’ Association of India (RAPA) awards function. The serial won Rajwade celebrity fans including the veteran composer Pyarelal of Laxmikant-Pyarelal fame who called him to his residence to congratulate him.
The story deals with the controversial and tabooed theme of rebirth but thanks to Rajwade’s treatment, the story is an entertaining mix of tradition and innovation. On one hand, it upholds traditional values seeped in religious thought. On the other, it questions beliefs and dogmas. In exploring the abnormal, normal and the paranormal, all in the same breath, it does not make any exclusive claims to truth.
Rajwade intersperses a dark sinister look of a racy whodunit plot and a sober family drama with amazing flair and authority. The serial does lose its rhythm at times, led by a wayward storyline and some mediocre players, but few enduring performances – notably that of Sharvari Patankar (Priya), Sagar Talashilkar (Chandu), Kishore Kadam (Saranjame), Chinmay Mandlekar (Abhimaan), Rajwade himself (Inspector Bhonsale) and to some extent, Anand Abhyankar (Dinanath Shastri) - are of such high quality that they unknowingly raise the bar for Marathi television, otherwise known for its shallow production values.
In a recent development, Rajwade has chosen to part ways with the team, close on the heels of Mandlekar’s exit. He asserts his reasons are purely personal and do not stem from any hostile difference of opinion with the producers, as media reports blatantly conclude. Though emotional, he is not bitter in the aftermath of the separation.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the “Asambhav” experience and I am indebted to Nikhil Sane of Zee Marathi for this wonderful opportunity. I also thank my well wishers and the audience from the world over who have appreciated my work” he acknowledges.
His admirers want him back as the captain of the “Asambhav” ship and they have formed fan clubs on social networking sites like Orkut, urging the producers to call back their “director” hero.
For Rajwade however, this exit, though painful, is not a full stop. He is busy on some interesting projects and chooses to look ahead. One of his much-talked about Hindi venture was “Akhand” – a story set in pre-independent India that was to cast super star Akshay Kumar in a negative role, besides Abhishek Bachchan and Suneil Shetty in pivotal roles. “Unfortunately, the project had to be shelved. But the subject being so close to my heart, I hope to revive it soon. I keep my fingers crossed”
“Akhand” or no “Akhand”, “Asambhav” or no “Asambhav”, Satish Rajwade has arrived. A director by choice, he has no qualms about sacrificing the fine actor in him. In the process, he brings with him such finesse which would make the stalwarts proud.