'We underestimate the audience'

Star power

'We underestimate the audience'

It wouldn’t be completely absurd if one were to say that Indians worship cinema. The few that make it to the spotlight are given a great degree of (uncalled for) respect and power. Actor Radhika Apte, however, says that this power that comes with stardom is “appalling”. “It’s appalling because people think that they can do anything with this celebrity power. I get agitated by this. I don’t think we have the right to arrive late for events, be served better food at shoots and other such things.”

But she does understand the reach and potential the visual medium has, and adds, “Look at the craze for stars and stardom in our country! People worship cinema here and it has a big reach.”

The ‘Badlapur’ actor was in the City recently for the promotion of her upcoming film, ‘Manjhi — The Mountain Man’, which also stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui. “Ketan Mehta (the director) understands this well and says ‘what else can I do but tell this story through films’.”

Although the number of content-driven films is less than it should be, she says that the industry is doing better. “Look at the films this year; there have been many content-driven films that have achieved commercial success. We underestimate the audience to certain extent.”

It doesn’t take much to get her talking about the film, which is set to release later this month.

“I am a big fan of Ketan’s work so when I got the offer, I said yes without reading the script. When I did hear the story, I thought it was one of the most inspiring tales. If someone narrated the story as fiction, I wouldn’t have bought it, calling it too far-fetched. But because it’s a true story, I was inspired by it.” Nawazuddin was just the bonus, of course!

The film tells the true story of Dashrath Manjhi, a resident of Gehlaur, a village in Bihar, who spent 22 years of his life carving a path through a mountain that barricaded the village from the rest of the state. His love for his wife, who fell to her death from the mountain while bringing back water, drove him to break down the hardened rocks. 

Calling it much more than a love story, Radhika says, “It is also an inspiring tale of how an ordinary person can do something extraordinary; how humans have the capacity to do something extraordinary and make the impossible, possible. In addition, it shows how, in our country, even the basic necessities are not provided. There is so much injustice and when a person decides to fight this, he gets recognition only posthumously. It’s sad and inspiring at the same time.”

Talking about the challenges she faced while filming, she elaborates, “Firstly, I had to make the love story work; unless the audience feels it, they can’t understand his passion for her loss. Secondly, my Hindi, being from Pune, has a Marathi accent to it. So, I had to spend a few months getting rid of it, which was a task. Dubbing was a different experience.”
 
The shoot itself was a challenge as they worked on rough terrain. “The place was difficult to shoot in. It’s a Naxal area so it is absolutely under-developed; there’s no electricity and it took us an hour and a half to get to the location everyday. We had to wake up at 3 am every morning and start shooting by 6 am. It was hectic and we hardly slept four to five hours a day.”

Comparing Manjhi’s work to the Taj Mahal, she says, “While the Taj Mahal also took the same time to build, it used 20,000 workers and was done for Shah Jahan’s prestige. Manjhi’s work was for the benefit of the villagers, who otherwise had to travel 70 kilometres to access food or water.”

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