Umesh & Girish Kulkarni On Highway, Their Creative Collaboration & The Resurgence Of Marathi Cinema!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on July 28, 2015

Girish and Umesh Kulkarni are one of the most exciting writer-director teams in Indian cinema. The duo started their filmmaking journey with the National Award winning short film Girni. From there, they've gone on to make Valu, Vihir and Deool, films that deal with diverse themes and have contributed significantly to the emergence of a new ethos in Marathi cinema.

Their latest film Highway deals with the subject of urbanisation and the effects it has on the lives of people. The film features a diverse set of actors including Renuka Shahane, Girish Kulkarni, Huma Qureshi, Tisca Chopra and director Nagraj Manjule among others.

While their earlier films were all set in a rural milieu, Highway looks like a road movie and seems an attempt by the duo to explore a new terrain.

Highway is scheduled to release on Aug 28th, 2015 and we eagerly look forward to it.

As the film nears its release date, we spoke with the duo about their filmmaking journey, the decidedly rustic themes and landscapes of their films, their collaboration and much more. Published below are some excerpts from the same.

On Their Collaboration

Girish: We used to do theatre and that’s where we met and started our journey. For nearly 7 years we were doing theatre and then Umesh got into FTII Pune. That’s how we discovered cinema and got into it. It was then that I tried to learn the nuances of the filmmaking medium. During this period we started doing 1 minute and 3 camera setup films and I was a part of all these endeavours. And that’s how we slowly got engaged into the filmmaking medium and began our journey.

Umesh: Since our theatre days, Girish used to write plays and we have been following the same pattern till now. Our stories come from within us and it's always a new exploration of our own selves. We make stories that come from our lives.

After 'Girni' (Umesh's first short film) won the National Award, we realised that our ideas have potential to reach people within India and other countries. The award was a boost and we thought that we can get a producer easily. Of course, that did not happen. We had won a National Award for a short film and not many people knew about it.

Girish: After he got out of film institute I was behind Umesh to make our first film. Early on, one tends to get into discussions and there's the risk of becoming an intellectual filmmaker. That’s why  I was keen to rush into our first film. We ended up producing our first film, without anyone backing us.

On The Rural Settings Of Their Films

Umesh: Girish hails from Ambejogai and I hail from a small village near Satara. The rural setting comes from our childhood days and experiences. The people in villages are real, colourful and have no fear of being themselves. This whole thing has drawn us to tell stories from the rural background. The way of life and colourful language is also fascinating. There are different dialects, which we rarely experience in city life. But our films are not just about rural issues, we also try to talk about an element of life that is universal.

Girish: Though I have been living in the city for a long time now, I have never connected with it much. We are so trapped in our city lives that we want to get out of it. And the 'getting out' is what we do through our films, since we cannot do any of this in real life. Our stories  are an escape from our own existence.

On Their Latest Venture, 'Highway'

Girish Kulkarni: A lot of people living in villages and rural areas are now aspiring to move to the cities and that is where I see Highway as a natural progression from the kind of films we've made so far. The film depicts transition of society and the change in the mood. Even people living in villages are getting lured by material wealth. These aspects have given birth to Highway.

Most of our films have around 30 characters. In terms of production, this was difficult. We have different types of actors coming from Hindi movies, Marathi movies & some from theatre background.  Others are related to film and theatre but are not professional actors like Nipun Dharmadhikari & Nagraj Manjule. We have juxtaposed people who come from different backgrounds, different mediums. In a way we have tried to recreate the dynamism of the society in our film too.

On Their Working Relationship

Umesh Kulkarni: The idea or the premise often comes in my mind, following which I urge Girish write and develop it further. He then creates the script, often bringing his own experiences into the story. Moreover, Girish also understands me and my thought process well and makes it a point that our story becomes more accessible and reaches more people.

Girish Kulkarni: While working together, we often have ego clashes.  And these clashes are bound to be there, since we are two different individuals with diverse thought processes and ideologies. But these clashes often converge and result in good work or creation. It is more like fighting for a cause. And that’s how we keep pushing each other and work towards making better films.

On The New Age Marathi Cinema

Umesh Kulkarni: There are a lot of young filmmakers who are addressing their own individuality through their films. Earlier there were only two kinds of films. Either they were commercial like those of Ashok Saraf and Laxmikant Berde or they used to be based on social issues. The crop of directors who came after the year 2000 has seen world cinema and are trying to tell their own stories.

Moreover thanks to film festivals like MAMI & PIFF, audiences started having exposure to all kinds of films besides what was made here. All these things together with better technical support in camera & sound which were missing in Marathi cinema for a long while having given birth to the new age Marathi cinema.

10 years back there was no space for films like Valu, Vihir. There was a notion that films need songs to make it a hit. In Valu, the bull was the central binding character and we successfully broke all the norms that existed earlier. Due to its success, we could make Vihir and Deool. We are still fighting for our films, but we still have been able to create a space for ourselves.

Girish Kulkarni: There is no star system in Marathi cinema and this has helped it to evolve. The star system creates various barriers. Many of my Telugu friends want to make different films, but they find it difficult to break the existing star system & distribution patterns. Marathi filmmakers also have the task of separating themselves from Bollywood. To be seen or noticed in Maharashtra, one has to be different compared to Bollywood, both in content and form.

On Films They've Loved Recently

Umesh Kulkarni: Shala, Fandry, Killa, Court, Harishchandrachi Factory & Lucia are some of the recent films we've liked. Then there are regional films, especially in Tamil,  that are being made in different dialects and are going beyond the star system and are driven by content. There are films in Kerala that are breaking the conventional norms.

On Why Short Films Are An Important Medium For Young Filmmakers

Umesh Kulkarni: Short films are a platform to experiment, challenge the constraints of the medium and to explore different spaces. It also doesn’t take too much money and there is no pressure to recover the same. A lot of experiments are happening in the short film medium. Often it is a challenge to get these resources to make a feature film. Short films provide freedom of expression and challenge filmmakers to use the medium in the best possible way. That’s why short films as a medium of expression should be nurtured. It also makes them aware of filmmaking difficulties, that though films can be made, it is not an easy task.

Also check this out:

Join The Jamuura Brigade & Make Your Film

Online Workshop On 'Secrets Of Screenwriting' With Kamlesh Pandey, At 6 PM, On 8th August


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