'I have been an actor since age three.'
Geetanjali Kulkarni is the kind of rare, self-effacing actor whom you tend to take for granted.
She is so much an integral part of the storytelling and so in character that the actor is invisible on screen.
A veteran of Marathi and Hindi cinema, Geetanjali plays a COVID frontline worker on Amazon Prime Video's arresting anthology, Unpaused: Ek Safar.
She tells Subhash K Jha, "The past two years have taught me the greatest lesson, that we shouldn't take anything for granted, and that we have to love, respect and help each other."
Unpaused is a prime example of how cinema can reflect reality in a productive way. Do you approve of making films on topical subjects?
More than topical, the important part for me is that the story has to be layered.
It should have some complexity and shouldn't be black and white.
That way it becomes interesting for the viewers as well as the actors.
Even if it is topical, it has to have that kind of research that makes it real, authentic and complex.
In the War Room segment of Unpaused: Naya Safar, you play a school teacher moonlighting as a COVID frontline worker. How close did you feel to the character?
I have seen a lot of teachers and government servants doing duties other than their regular work.
We always feel that government officials don't do their duties, but they are more professional.
Many times, these teachers go out of their way and make an effort for children, especially in villages.
I have a lot of faith in the government system because the system is made by people like Sangeeta Waghmare.
I can completely relate to such teachers because I have seen such examples in my life where they go out of their way and volunteer.
What has it been like for you during these past two years? What are your lessons learnt from the lockdown experience?
The past two years have taught me the greatest lesson, that we shouldn't take anything for granted, and that we have to love, respect and help each other.
I feel we have to understand the younger generation now and empathise with them.
I have been watching you on screen for years now. Tell us about your beginning as an actor. Were you always an actor?
I have been an actor since age three.
I trained at the National School of Drama and after that, I did Marathi theatre.
I did experimental as well as professional plays in Marathi.
Then I started experimental plays in Hindi.
Since Court (2014) happened, I have been doing more screen work.
Cinema, apart from a film like Court, has not been able to find a place for you. Do you feel the OTT platform is a blessing for a neglected actor like you?
I think long-format has been helpful.
Cinema has its own limitations, but Karkhanisanchi Waari is a Marathi film where I enjoyed a meaty role.
That was the only film after Court where I got a meaty role.
But as far as long formats are concerned, it has really worked for me because I got to work in Taj Mahal 1989, Gullak and Aarya and so many different kinds of roles.
Gullak was challenging for me, as I had to speak in a different accent.
In Taj Mahal 1989, that character was very close to me. I could identify with that era, the situations and what a woman in this age feels.
Unpaused: Naya Safar is special because I feel very connected with the story. It's a very important story and I am fortunate to be a part of War Room. I think the character has a lot of power as a person and I can fully empathise with Sangeeta's character.
OTT is a blessing not just for me,but all actors like me, who are middle-aged and experienced.
You are married to an actor as great as you. Is there are an Abhimaan situation between Atul Kulkarni and you?
No. When I had joined NSD, he was my senior. He had a lot of experience and I was a newcomer, so I have always looked up to him.
Now we have become critics of each other.
We talk a lot, we exchange a lot of ideas about our work and not necessarily agree on things.
Which Indian actors do you think are the flag-bearers and game-changers?
There are a lot of actors and artists from different parts of India who are doing great work and I get inspiration from them.
There's a lavani artist Shakuntala Bai Nagarkar and she is almost 65 years old. I really love and admire her.
I used to love Irrfan's work.
I also like Vidya Balan because she takes risks with films, like when she did Sherni and The Dirty Picture.
I am a die-hard fan of Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Raghubir Yadav and Om Puri.
There are a lot of actors from South cinema as well like Vijay Setupathy, Fahadh Faasil, Sai Pallavi and Parvathy.
All of them are doing amazing work and I learn a lot from them.
What are your forthcoming projects?
I am doing Rangbaaz 3.
Gullak Season 3 is complete.
I am working on another series which hasn't gone on floors so I can't talk about it yet.