November 9, 2002 
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Atul Kulkarni
'Acting is my vehicle of communication'
Atul Kulkarni philosophises on awards and acting

Early this October, the National Centre For Performing Arts in Mumbai saw the staging of one of the finest plays in Hindi, made in recent times. Short stories and poems of Gulzar: Kharaashein - The scars from riots.

Three prose selections interwoven with poetry, were all stories set against the backdrop of a riot hit life. Three plays with actors with proven track records. Atul Kulkarni was one of them. And as we saw him perform live, once again it was brought home just how talented the man is and just how low profile.

Twice Atul has been awarded the National Award. First for his performance in his debut making film, Hey! Ram and more recently for Chandni Bar for his portrayal of Potya Sawant, an underworld don. Now, post the awards he has been signed up for some interesting roles. Or rather, the roles that came his way were many, but he picked up the interesting ones. Different roles, but also some run-of-the-mill types.

Actually just one in the second category.Run, a Tamil film, starring Madhavan and Raima, where he plays a dreaded don.

The film released last month, has been declared a hit and audiences have been seen rushing towards the screen screaming and abusing Atul every time he showed up. Well, looks like another winning performance.

Kshama Rao caught up with Atul at Bhaidas Hall, where he was rehearsing his lines of Kharaashein.

Excerpts from an interview:

Post the National Award for Chandni Bar, haven't you been getting some good offers? Or are you extremely picky which is why you have the time to do plays?

Doing Gulzar saab's play is an honour. Even if I didn't have time, I would have made time for it. I am being choosy about the roles I pick up. For instance, I am quite excited about the role that I am playing in Madhur Bhandarkar's Satta. I am playing a young, modern politician called Yashwant Varde. It's like a Madhur Bhandarkar role, which is neither black nor white. It's just a character. I play a traditional Hindi film negative cop in E Niwas' Dum. I am sure E Niwas will flesh out the character well. Atul Kulkarni

Then there is Mahesh Dattani's Mango Souffle based on On a Muggy Night in September. I am also looking forward to playing a simple, vulnerable bank officer whose life gets drastically changed after one incident in Kushan Nandy's 88, Antop Hill. Rakesh Mehra has also signed me for two films--Samjhauta Express and Rangde Basanti. I am also playing a regular villain in Tamil film-- Run.

Did you ever imagine that a role with a debut-making director (Madhur Bhandarkar) would fetch you such acclaim?

When you are acting in a film, you are only worried about your performance and how the film will shape up. You also hope that once the film releases, it will do well. Awards come later, mainly after you hear and read critiques and peers. About the National Awards, you don't know when they are announced.

After we finished shooting Chandni Bar, there were talks among the crew members on how the film might win National Awards but then one just laughed and forgot about it. It feels good to win the award.

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When I won for the first time, I was happy, winning it again has made me realise the true value of the award. It has boosted my confidence because Hey! Ram was my first Hindi film and I got an award for it. With Chandni Bar I got it again. *Smiles*

Chandni Bar was a film we all believed in. Commercially too, it did very well so one got noticed. I must say that the role in Hey Ram is one of my favourites. It brought me a lot of acclaim and appreciation. But my role really stood out in Chandni Bar and the film's commercial success added to the good feeling.

Winning two National Awards consecutively would make any actor jittery about the roles he accepts. How sure are you about the direction in which you are heading?

*Smiles* Whether I am going in the right direction or not is determined not just by awards but also by the kind of films I do and their success. In fact even those films that I refuse have a bearing on my professional life. Besides the award is not 'the' track. It's a parallel track. If they come by, good and if they don't, no worries. I think it's better to forget that you have won an award and get going with your life. I got an award for Hey! Ram, but though it got me acclaim, it didn't get me roles. But the success of Chandni Bar has changed life completely. Chandni Bar has got me more offers and fortunately diverse ones at that.

How diverse? Mahesh Dattani's film is about alternate sexuality. When I was told about this film, I could sense a good film, a good script and a good unit to work with. I liked my role and I thought I should do it without thinking of its consequences. It was a very different and difficult role and I don't know whether I can play such a role again.

For a small town boy of Solapur who acted in a local acting group to the National School of Drama to Bollywood. Do you feel that you no longer have to prove yourself?

I don't act to prove anything to anyone. I like acting. It is the only profession I know. An award is like an accessory but like I drive a car because I like it and not because it is an accessory, similarly I look upon acting and awards that you get because of good acting. Acting is my vehicle of communication, though awards do matter to me.


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