'Everybody loved the backless Ajintha poster'
Marathi actress Sonalee Kulkarni, who has done quite a few films shot to fame in the critically acclaimed movie Natrang, opposite Atul Kulkarni. Now, she is being talked about for her performance in noted art director Nitin Desai's directorial debut Ajintha, which released last Friday.
A trained bharatnatyam dancer, Sonalee realised she wanted to act when she did a documentary film at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), at the age of 14.
Ajintha is based on a true love story between Major Robert Gill and a tribal girl named Paro. His passion towards the art, madness for colours, clear understanding of love, everything this character experiences in the movie depicts how an officer from the West, slowly starts believing in Buddhist principles and gets Indian at heart. Gill chose to stay in India for the rest of his life, close to Ajanta, and Paro.
Sonalee talks to Rajul Hegde about her experience in the film.
What feedback have you got for the film?
I have got a positive feedback for my character Paro and the film. The film is well received in different parts of Maharashtra, including Mumbai.
Image: Sonalee Kulkarni in Ajintha
'I had to get the body language of tribal women'
Was it difficult to play a girl from a different era?
Yes. But the research done by the team helped me understand the paintings and philosophy of Ajanta. There is absolutely no literature available regarding Paro, and that's what made it challenging.
What kind of homework did you do?
I had to get the body language of tribal women, and get the dialect right too. I had to spend time with some tribal women for 15 days before and during the shoot. There are a couple of folk dance sequences in the movie and the tribal women have strong bodies with firm movements. I had to match their energy levels, thus making the dance form slightly masculine, yet retaining the grace of a young girl.
Was there any discomfort when you posed backless for the poster?
Not really. I play the mistress and real life inspiration of Robert Gill, who paints pictures of me in various poses as depicted in the historic Ajanta / Ellora carvings. I had to get my poses perfectly right to match the beautiful carvings on the caves and yet maintain a soft and sensuous look. When I studied the philosophy behind the film, behind the sensuous paintings, I realised that my role is not superficial.
The backless poster was the first teaser of the film and everybody loved . It created a lot of curiosity about the girl in the picture..
Image: Sonalee Kulkarni in Ajintha
'I survive on dance'
How was the makeup done?
I had to wear the tanned look of a tribal girl throughout the film, so that required full body makeup.
The make up by Vikram Gaikwad (who did Vidya Balan's makeup in The Dirty Picture) took almost three hours, and another two hours to remove after the shoot. We shot for 12 days at the Ajanta caves, and 40 days in Karjat. It took a good five hours of my day to get the full body make up done for those 52 days.
Can you talk about the stunts you did in the film?
I was required to do two stunts. It was scary because I have a phobia for heights.
In the first one, I had to dive 60 feet through a waterfall. I was terrified, since I have never attempted bungee jumping or even dived into a pool before.
In another stunt, I had to climb down from a ladder from a 200 feet cliff and then enter a cave for honeycomb hunting. I was covered in ropes and balancing a bamboo to portray a strong, weathered tribal girl.
You have done this film after a gap of two years. How do you spend your time when you are not shooting?
I do a lot of stage shows abroad. I survive on dance. I also judged a reality show on a Marathi channel last year.
You have been in the industry for five years. Why haven't you tried your luck in Bollywood?
I get to experiment with different roles in Marathi films. I like to do roles with substance, where I can showcase my talent. I'm looking forward playing such roles in Bollywood.
Image: Sonalee Kulkarni