Having proven his acting prowess not only in Hindi and Marathi cinema but also in International and South films, this magnanimous talent, an NSD passout and National Award-winning actor is a man of few words. Atul Kulkarni returns to the 70mm screen with a sensible entertainer, Popat, directed by Satish Rajwade, in a never-seen-before avatar.
Talking about the film Atul says, “Popat is a story about four friends and how they want to achieve their goals in life. These boys who want to do something in their life eventually land up in a situation where life teaches them a lesson. In local slang, Popat has different meanings attached to it other than "parrot". Popat can mean fooling someone which can often be funny.”
From essaying the role of a cold-blooded fundamentalist in ‘Hey Ram’ to adapting to the pansy adas of a Nachya in ‘Natrang’, Kulkarni has donned various characters but he believes that his role of Janardhan Shingre in Popat, is way different from other characters that he has done till date. “Janardhan Shingre aka Janya is the eldest amongst the four friends. Janardhan joins the group of three boys who aspire to make a film. Janya is a small-time photographer who is not at all good at his work. Recently, Janya has brought a camera to shoot weddings. With the help of this camera, the team of four plan to make a film. Janya as an individual is extremely good at heart, naughty and happy-go-lucky kind of a person. He is full of life. When he meets these boys half his age, he soon becomes one amongst them. He becomes a participant in this project of filmmaking because he sees the project as an opportunity to prove himself to his wife and people around that he is not ‘good for nothing’. Also in terms of the look of the character, it is extremely different, very colorful and rustic. Not just the character but also the comedy genre is something that I have never tried before.”
When asked how similar is this character to Atul Kulkarni in real life, he says, “I am not overtly similar to this character but I would say that all of us have all possible traits as a human being but how we bring out these traits depends on a number of reasons like our upbringing, our environment, our education and the likes. These factors enhance a few things in us and suppress others which are not in accordance with societal norms. But we have all the traits and as an actor my job is to bring out these hidden facets of my personality which are needed for the character. So in that sense, Janya is me and I am Janya.”
Satish Rajwade, the director of the film, who worked on bringing out the little known romantic side of Atul in Premachi Goshta, asked him to work on Popat during the shooting of the first film. Reiterating the story, Atul says, “Satish and I have lots of similarities be it about the technicalities, our likes and dislikes in terms of art & craft, creativity, a theater background or a middle-class Marathi family background. In these terms, we are very much alike and we kind of struck a cord while shooting for Premachi Goshta and that has stayed on. I instantly loved the story of Popat when Satish narrated the story to me. He eventually asked me to be a part of the film and I instantly said yes.” When asked why he likes working with Satish, he says, “Satish works with individuals, he knows the talent of the people he works with. For filmmaking, I believe, the director first needs to be a manager on sets, a psychologist and then a director. Satish is brilliant at being all three. He controls things on sets without making his superiority felt. Plus, he is a wonderful storyteller.” Adding to this, Atul recalls an incident from the sets when the shooting had to be called off for a day due to Satish being stung by bees. “Satish was admitted in hospital for a day but the next day he was back on the sets and we got back to work!”
Apart from Atul Kulkarni being the Unique Selling Point (USP) of the film, the film’s story is also its USP. Without giving the question a second thought, Atul too agrees that story of the film is its USP. “Audience wants to hear a different story all the time. They primarily come to the theater for the story, the direction, action, star cast follows later. Popat is a fantastic story. It is not what it looks like. It has a much deeper and a serious meaning to it, in spite of being a fun film. Popat is a comedy that should be taken seriously.”
Apart from Atul the other actors in the film – Amey Wagh, Ketan Pawar and Siddharth Menon – though have had good films kickstarting their careers yet with experience and expertise one would believe that it was Atul who would have guided the young trio but what comes from Atul is a humble and honest reply. “In spite of being a young lot, this generation has much more exposure in this age compared to what I had in their age – much more freedom and much more exposure. And although they may not be known personalities, they have done a lot of theater. Because of the amount of confidence, exposure and energy, these guys are completely different personalities and it was I who learnt from them!”
Churning out something new, avid and versatile with every film has been a signature of Atul Kukarni. He has gone a step ahead with every movie but does that lead to performance pressure of any sort? “No, performance pressure is not because of me being versatile. I accept the roles because they challenge me and I like to fight that challenge, to do what I thought I won’t be able to do. If at all I feel the pressure then it stems from within, from the urge to outdo that challenge.”
Atul will also be seen in yet another challenging role in the remake of Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Zanjeer. The film will see Atul portraying a realistic character. “My character is called J.D who is a reporter. This character is based on the Mid-day reporter J.Dey who was shot dead by underworld sharpshooters. I think that apart from being a pivotal role in the film, Apoorva is trying to tell something that is beyond the storyline as to what people do to those few who try and stand against the negativities of the society. Apoorva is trying to make a much deeper statement with this character apart from delivering an entertainer with his film.”
With lots of hopes for Popat which is slated to release on August 23, Atul readies himself for few other films amongst which are Hollywood film “Singularity” and K.C.Bokadia’s film “Dirty Politics” (alongside actors Sushant Singh, Om Puri, Naseerudin Shah, Anupam kher, Ashutosh Rana, Rajpal Yadav and Mallika Sherawat) tends to be an added feather in his hat.