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On a south stint

Atul Kulkarni expands his base in Telugu films by signing yet another one with N. SHANKAR



LOOKING AHEAD Post `Rang de Basanti' Atul Kulkarni is all set to win over more fans

On a sun-kissed morning, filmmaker N. Shankar's unit is just about getting ready for a daylong shoot in the twin cities when we catch up with actor Atul Kulkarni.

Much as he would love to be immersed in reading, his phone rings constantly with congratulatory messages pouring in for Rang De Basanti. "This is my first release in a year, after Page 3, and it's heartening to see the good response," he says with a smile.

Now that the film has hit theatres after the initial hitch, thanks to animal rights activists, the actor is breathing easy. According to the rule book, one has to take permission before using any animal for a film shooting.

"But unfortunately, most filmmakers are unaware of the rule. So, when a 20-second portion that was thus shot by the unit caused a stir, the team decided to edit it. What remains a matter of concern, though, is the fact that while the cinematic depiction of a ritual that's being followed in Punjab drew flak, the original practice still prevails," he says, referring to the martial arts performed by Nihang Sikhs, which also tests their horse riding skills.

In the last six years of his career, Atul has been recognised as a thinking actor and credited for his repertoire of films. He is at ease working in films made for the commercial and the niche audiences, theatre and even regional cinema. Not many know that prior to working in Hey Ram, which won him his first National Award, Atul worked in a Kannada film. "I had just got out of National School of Drama and didn't really know the medium of cinema. And though I spent my early years in Belgaum, my Kannada is something Bangaloreans would frown upon. So I preferred to say that Hey Ram was my first movie," laughs Atul. But his association with regional cinema has continued since. Having worked in the Tamil film Run and Telugu films like Jayam Manadey Ra and Chanti, Atul has signed N. Shankar's new project, titled Ram, and stars alongside Nitin, Hrishithaa Bhatt and Genelia. "I am unable to do more than one or two films a year in the South. "

He admits that his choice of films is not purely driven by commerce. "There is a tendency to cast an actor in similar roles. And if you accept them, you get caught in a trap. I've taken harsh decisions and refused certain films. Unless an actor maintains a qualitative body of work, his commercial value also takes a beating."

Atul hates the thought of living from Friday to Friday. He would rather do select films and use his time to do theatre and attend film festivals. His recent Marathi play Samudra has been a huge draw and Atul will soon begin work on a new Marathi film, to be directed by Chitra Palekar. "It's an interesting project based on a story written by Maha Shweta Devi. Nandita Das and I play key roles," he informs.

What keeps him in check, he says, is the constructive criticism he gets from his friends and family. "I get honest and sometimes even blunt feedback from my wife, mother and my friends in Sholapur, where I began my career in theatre. My wife, in particular, believes that I didn't deserve the National Award for Best Supporting Actor for my performance in Chandni Bar," laughs Atul, on a parting note.

SANGEETHA DEVI K

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