Time and again, actor Riteish Deshmukh has stepped out of the genre of slapstick comedy, which many consider to be his comfort zone, foraying into more challenging roles in an attempt to reinvent his on-screen persona. He speaks to Bulbul Sharma about his Bollywood career, his involvement with Marathi cinema and his definition of a commercial film.

 

 

Q. In an acting career that spans some 16 years and is largely dominated by comedy films, how do projects like Ek Villain and Marjaavaan, in which you play the role of the antagonist, add to your repertoire?

A. I have done about 40 films in my acting career, and most of them have been comedies. And there are variations of comedies that I have done, from Bluffmaster!, Malamaal Weeklyand the Housefull series to the Masti series and Dhamaal. But I have played an antagonist only twice—in Ek Villain [2014], and now in Marjaavaan. And these two projects have been very interesting for me as an actor because before Ek Villain nobody wanted to cast me in a role so dramatically different from how I am perceived on screen. I am glad that it paid off and created a space for me where I was accepted as an actor who could do much more than comedy. And it is this space that has led me to do Marjaavaan today and I am very happy. The exciting part is, as I look back, that apart from doing comedy films I have played the role of an action hero and had the fortune of playing a woman on screen and a serial killer as well. It feels fortunate to have got the opportunity to do so many things. Marjaavaan is also one of those rare opportunities where I got to play a villain who is a three-foot-tall guy.

 Q. A short villain is quite unusual in Bollywood. What effect did you intend to achieve through it?

A. A person who is vertically challenged cannot really be a physical threat to anyone. The mental game he can play is the threat he can create. He knows that anyone can take advantage of him because of his physical appearance. But can he instil fear in and around people with his ruthlessness? That becomes the real conflict between the hero and the villain in this film…

Deshmukh in a still from the movie Marjaavaan.

 Q. How do you approach these offbeat characters? Do they excite you or make you nervous?

A. Because it is a challenge, it excites me. I also want to see how much justice I can do to the character while performing that act. Can I make the audience forget who I really am?  I think about these things whenever I take up challenging roles. Many times when we are doing a comedy film, our real personalities come out as well. More than the characters, people see us in those roles. But when it comes to films like Marjaavaan, the character comes to the forefront. This is the challenge that we are able to overcome as actors while doing films like Marjaavaan.

 Q. Your family is actively involved in Maharashtra’s politics. So has your family’s political background influenced your film choices?

A. Not at all. My father and family had given me complete freedom to choose what I wanted to choose. Had I been under any sort of pressure, then probably the Mastiseries would have never happened. I think I chose what I wanted to. My choices were mine, all thanks to the freedom my parents gave me.

Q. At this point of your acting career, are you satisfied with how it has all panned out?

A. Absolutely. Looking back, I never thought that I would get a second film. And I never thought I wanted a career in acting because I am an architect. But an offer came my way and I gave it a try. I had thought my first film would be my last. But people were kind enough to offer me films, and then those films became successful. I started getting more offers. After three-four years, I thought that I can make this space as my career. It is then that I started working harder and today after 16 years, having done 40-45 movies, being a part of four successful franchise films and Marathi films, I know that God has given me much more than what I had asked for.

Q. What role do critics play in the life of an actor?

A. Let us understand that criticism is a form of reaction to your work. Earlier, criticism was limited to reviews. And people would read those first and then watch the movie. Today the word of mouth is also a review, and anyone who watches the film has the right to review and criticise your work because that’s the world you are in now. We need to respect that everyone has an opinion, right from a professional reviewer to someone who has watched the film and expressed his disappointment or satisfaction with the film. For me, an audience’s review is as important as that of a professional reviewer. But at the end of it what matters to me is what the audience thinks about the film because we make it for them. And I completely believe in accepting my audience’s verdict. They may accept or reject the film. 

Q. You have majorly been a part of mainstream Hindi cinema. So what is your idea of a commercial film?

A. As an actor, you just play a part in the film and that’s it… A commercial film needs to entertain the audience. And by entertainment I don’t mean that it needs to be a comedy and make people laugh. It could be an action, horror, romantic or any other genre film, but it needs to be engaging and rewarding both to the audience and to the maker. A commercial film should make me feel for the characters.

Q. You are a part of Marathi cinema, as both producer and actor. Can we see this commitment to Marathi films as a homage, a form of repayment, to the culture and region that has given you and your family so much love and respect?

A. I am nobody to pay back to the culture. More than anything, I feel that it is this space that needs to be nurtured and has a lot of potential. It has been doing well for decades. It is the space where cinema was born. When we look at the larger picture, I feel that there is so much that can be done within Marathi cinema. It is also not an easy space because the same audience watches Hindi films. So Marathi films are their second choice. You compete for viewership with Hindi films. How we compete with the content in Hindi and create a loyal Marathi film viewing audience has always been challenging. 

Q. But there is certainly a connect that you feel with Marathi people and culture.

A. Of course, there is a connect. And I am glad and honoured to have this connect with Marathi people. All thanks to my father’s legacy. I hope that I am able to do much more for Marathi cinema than what I am currently doing.