'We need to be proud of our Maratha history and should be ready to tell the world our stories and not just keep them limited to Maharashtra.'
"I wanted to show the unseen side of Chhatrapati, which no one has shown yet."
Abhijeet Shirish Deshpande, the director of the historical Har Har Mahadev, tells Subhash K Jha why he made a film on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
How did the idea for Har Har Mahadev come to you?
I always wanted to make a film on Shivaji Maharaj, but his life is so dramatic that it is impossible to do justice in just one film.
So I thought I would do a trilogy. This is the first.
This particular battle that happened on the night of July 13, 1660 always fascinated me.
But what set out to be a war film also explores the human side of war.
An extensive volume of research must have gone into the pre-production. How difficult was it to reference the characters?
I have grown up listening to the stories of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj, but I found that he is grossly unexplored as a character and as a human being.
We revere him as God.
I started writing this film in 2012 and realised why he is even bigger than the Gods.
To tell this fascinating story, I got the character of Baji Prabhu Deshpande, an ageing warrior, who finds a purpose late in life.
I wanted to show the unseen side of Chhatrapati, which no one has shown yet.
How much of the film is true to history and how much is fiction?
I think if you explore any person in depth and look keenly at his story, how he has lived his life, his behaviour and his choices, we can find enough drama and don't need to lie or take unneeded liberties.
After having stayed with the characters for so long, I realised how grossly unexplored Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Baji Prabhu Deshpande were.
I tried to go beyond anecdotes and folklore about these two and focused on their hard choices and behaviours.
It threw fascinating human insights, which is the core of the film. Of course, unknown incidents have also been included.
Were Sharad Kelkar and Subodh Bhave your first choices?
Yes. Baji Prabhu Deshpande starts off as a victim of the times he is living in.
A good man, a brave man but a rigid man with no foresight. And he meets this whirlwind, forward-thinking young rebel, Shivaji Maharaj.
The clash of these titans and their ideologies forms a major part of the film.
Shivaji Maharaj is often known only for his brave side, but his philosophies are always ignored.
To portray the minutest of nuances and a range of emotions, I couldn't trust any actor apart from Subodh Bhave.
He is so effortless and charismatic and he has given me the Shivaji Maharaj that I had imagined.
Usually, Sharad is known for his voice. I wanted to break that mould.
I gave him minimum dialogues and created situations of silence for him.
You will see Sharad Kelkar emote with his eyes, the helplessness of an honest man, the emotionally torn father... it is an absolute treat.
How did you achieve such quality on screen with a limited budget?
Planning and detailing!
Today, for a film to become a theatre experience, it has to have certain grandeur and scale.
Because of the Hollywood films coming in, we Indians have developed dignified taste buds.
So if we are bringing a historical film in theatres, it is imperative that the visuals are top class and the VFX is of the highest quality.
After spending four years planning and making this film, we are happy that we have created a scale that the people are loving.
Credit to Divinity Pictures and Gokul Mahajan for creating the 17th century world of Har Har Mahadev.
On a side note, it's not just the visual scale, but also the sound, the performances, the music and above all, the emotions which I hope will dazzle people.
Subodh Bhave has spoken about the cast and crew falling at his feet when he emerged on the sets dressed as Shivaji.
It is how we revere our heroes.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is a God for the masses here.
When you watch Har Har Mahadev, you will know the real work of Shivaji Maharaj and you will know why this noble king eclipsed even the Gods.
There would be an extra air of purity and decorum on the set when Subodh Bhave would be in the costume of Shivaji Maharaj.
How would you compare Har Har Mahadev with recent historicals like Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero and Bajirao Mastani?
Bajirao Mastani and Tanhaji have been written by the brilliant writer, Prakash Kapadia.
He is the best we have today. I am a great admirer of his writing.
The way Sanjay Leela Bhansali sir has made Ranveer Singh get into the character of Bajirao Peshwa was another lesson in direction for me.
Your film brings up the sensitive issues of consent and rape. How rampant was non-consensual sex in the period you have described?
It was a norm.
Traditionally, the invaders used rape not just as a way of satiating lust, but also a weapon to subjugate women.
Women are the source of knowledge of a civilisation and the keepers of the sanctity of any culture. So annihilating women was what men and invaders did first when they wanted to conquer, control and administer.
In Har Har Mahadev, you will see that in these chaotic times, Shivaji Maharaj stepped up and declared rape as a punishable crime.
It was punishable by death or getting hands and limbs chopped off.
Shivaji Maharaj's Swarajya movement was mainly to ensure safety for women.
The female characters, such as the two wives, small but powerful roles. How did you ensure that the women did not get neglected in your screenplay?
Not just women, even characters who have one scene should be memorable for the audience.
Usually in historicals and war films, women are often ignored or used for romantic relief or glamour.
But if you see war realistically, it is the women who suffer the most, as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and sometimes as helpless civilians of a losing nation.
We wanted to show the important contribution of women to the glorious Maratha history.
We will see the supreme sacrifice of queen Saibai, Shivaji Maharaj's wife, the no-nonsense Sonabai Deshpande, who will not mince her words when she sees her husband Baji Prabhu Deshpande go helpless, the great mother queen Jijabaji and how she shaped Shivaji Maharaj's ideals.
Marathi cinema has made great headway in recent years.
We in Marathi cinema are blessed to have a strong base of Marathi literature, folklore and Marathi theatre. Most of our stories and talent come from there.
This is the time when the Marathi industry realises that we cannot compete only on the basis of good and profound stories.
We need to scale up the production values, the visual palettes and the grandeur of our films which places us better to compete against Southern and Hollywood cinema.
We need to be proud of our own Maratha history and should be ready to tell the world our stories and not just keep them limited to Maharashtra.
I am proud to be a small part of the wonderful talent that we have in Marathi cinema.