Atul Kulkarni, a famous Indian film actor who works primarily in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu language films. Kulkarni won the National Award for the best supporting actor for the films Hey Ram and Chandni Bar. Atul Kulkarni is known for his intense performances, be they in his debut film Hey Ram (2000) or second film Chandni Bar (2001), both of which won him National awards, or his later films like Natrang (2010) and Premachi Goshta (2012) or Bandish Bandits (2019). Known for not shying away from voicing his views. The actor got candid about his career and journey so far and also spoke about his freedom of expression not just for celebrities but also for the common public.
What has driven you towards performing arts?
When I was doing my graduation, Bachelor of Arts in Solapur, those days I used to perform in college events. That was my first ever mindful performance, you can say, in front of an audience. I liked the entire process and I joined an amateur theatre group, which used to do plays. I worked with them for 2-3 years. Then I felt I should pursue it as a profession. I went to the National School of Drama (NSD) from 1992 to 1995. In 1995 I became a professional actor at the age of 30.
How do you look at your journey and the challenges in the acting profession?
Acting itself is challenging and extremely uncertain. Nobody in this field can say he or she is a hundred percent satisfied. You may be anyone, but there is constant ambiguity about everything. Working in this arena as an actor for more than three decades itself is the biggest task.
Who mentored when you started out?
No one has mentored me as such but yes many have inspired me towards good acting. You can pick and choose certain things from various actors. But considering one person as your everything, as your ideal, is wrong, according to me, I have taken a lot of things from a lot of people.
How did the cinema happen to you?
In 2000, Hey Ram was my first film, which was directed by Kamal Haasan. After coming out from NSD in 1995, I was doing a play called Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi, where I was playing Mahatma Gandhi. I did it in three languages — Marathi, Hindi, and Gujarati. Those days Kamalji was making a film called Hey Ram at that time. He had heard about this play. He called me to Chennai. I was actually given the role of Shriram Abhyankar. Then Madhur Bhandarkar saw Hey Ram and he offered me Chandni Bar (2001). The film became a hit. So, after that, I just kept doing films one after the other.
Do you miss the theatre?
I do not miss the theatre at all. I am loving working in films.
How exciting is it to adapt to different types of film industries?
In India, every state is like a country due to the difference in culture, language, everything. The culture gets reflected in whatever you are doing, not just the film industry. So, there is nothing simple or difficult about it. It is just understanding the culture, method of working, and thinking of a particular geographical area and adapting yourself to that. After all, you are dealing with human beings, and that is very exciting.
What are your criteria for choosing a film?
What I look into is basically the story. Then the storyteller and the character. It’s a combination. But mainly it is the story.
How do you look at the Marathi cinema?
We must understand that the modern Marathi film industry is just 10-15 years old. The industry gave the best of films all this while, I think Marathi cinema should compare itself only with Marathi cinema that happened a year before and not with any other industry. You can’t compare a 15-year-old industry with a 75-year-old person. We should just check what we have done last year. How much audience have we been able to attract? How many good films have we been able to make? And just try to improve upon ourselves. That is the only thing we should concentrate on. I am overwhelmed to see the super-duper hits that Marathi films gave in recent times.