“My dream is to play the role of an athlete”, says actress SONALI KULKARNI who steals the show at YIFF 23

It was a jam packed auditorium that Sonali Kulkarni addressed at Rangswar at Y. B. Chavan auditorium yesterday at the Smita Patil Memorial Lecture organised by Dr Jabbar Patel the Director of the 13th Yashwant International Film Festival. “This is beyond being happy as an actress as far as I am concerned. Every generation gives his or her own baton to carry forward the legacy. A film festival is a kind of a boost for the kind of momentum. My husband and I often fight with one another as to who is a bigger fan- he or I but it is Dr Jabbar Patel, who instead of basking in his glory as a filmmaker helps people showcase Cinema as the director of Pune International Film Festival and YIFF year after year”.

Just for the uninitiated, Sonali Kulkarni, the well-known actress, producer, and writer who primarily appears in Marathi and Hindi films, has also appeared in Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati and English films. She has worked in around 100 films, both commercial and experimental, as well as some international projects, and is regarded as one of the most versatile Marathi actresses. Although born into a middle-class Maharashtrian family in Pune, Kulkarni was drawn to acting at an early age and had attended Satyadev Dubey’s acting workshops.

At the age of 18, she made her cinematic debut in the Kannada film Cheluvi (1992). Later, she debuted with Dr Jabbar Patel’s Mukta (1994) in Marathi. This was followed by critical praise with Doghi (1995), Daayraa (1996), and Gharabaher (1999). Subsequently, she starred in Mission Kashmir (2000), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000), Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya (2001), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Taxi Number 9211 (2006), and Singham (2011).

Kulkarni garnered further successes with Deool (2011), Pune 52 (2013), The Good Road (2013), Gulabjaam (2018), and Ani… Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar (2018). Moreover, she won three Filmfare Marathi Awards for her roles in the biography Dr. Prakash Baba Amte-The Real Hero (2014), the emotional drama Kaccha Limbu (2017), and the survival drama Pension (2021).

Amidst thundering applause, Sonali stated that she was a sapling planted by Smita Patil and added that she was just an eight year old baby when her mother had carried her on her shoulder for the first time to meet Smita Patil. “It is very difficult to create the kind of milestone that Smita has created. As an actress, I’d say that Smita was timeless and the subjects that she had chosen were extremely courageous as she had understood the power of the camera. After several decades no one can surpass Smita because she had the guts to juggle with different kinds of cinema and had worked both with debutant directors as well as established directors and it is very difficult to decode her acting talent. Smita will always remain a wonder and it is very mesmerising to see her emote.”

Sonali confesses that she had a complex about her looks when Girish Karnad offered her the role of a tree in his Kannada film Cheluvi but Girish had made her very comfortable just with his presence. Girish had the aura of making people feel at ease. “I was studying in the first year at Fergusson College in Pune and when Girish asked me to act in his film, I had naively told him to seek the permission of my Principal. He wrote a letter to my principal and I was allowed to act in the film even when I was studying in college.”

Sonali added that acting is nothing but reacting spontaneously on the sets to one’s co-actors. “I have enjoyed working in around 100 films till date. Even while I was working on the sets, I learnt a lot about life and acting. Though I have acted in films in Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Gujarati and even Italian, two favourite films of mine are in Marathi- Gulab Jamun and Kachcha Limbu. Among my films in Hindi, I cherish both Dil Chahta Hai which was a path breaking film and Mission Kashmir. For Dil Chahta Hai, I did a fun audition for casting director Zoya Akhtar. Both Zoya and Farhan did not at all carry the burden of being the children of Honey aunty and Javed uncle. When the dress designer replaced a T Shirt for Saif because it had a hole in it, Farhan insisted that she bring back the T-shirt with the hole because he wanted authenticity.”

“I enjoyed working under the diction of Farhan Akhtar, Ramgopal Verma and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, for whom I wore a sandal worth 650 bucks which was a lot then with high heels to suit my part as the tall Sanjay Dutt’s wife. Introducing himself to me, Hrithik Roshan told me that he was a struggler and the son of Rakesh Roshan.I also told him that I was also a struggler and the daughter of Kulkarni. A screening of Mission Kashmir was held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where, when Vidhu Vinod Chopra introduced all his actors to the President, I was pleasantly flabbergasted when the President butted him by looking at me and asking me whether I was Rama of Dr Jabbar Patel’s film Babasaheb Ambedkar. It was kind of an award that still matters to me still as the President referred to me by the character that I had played in a film.

“I feel that I am a completely fearless person who likes to take risks as an actor. Also I do not like to take my roles to my house or vice versa. I always remember that an actor is paid to wait when he or she is acting in a film and you should know whether you are facing the camera or the audience when you set out to act. I am a selfish actor and also a jealous actor, I envy Nina Kulkarni on screen but I also know that I cannot do the roles that she does or measure up to her standard. I am also shy as an actor. Today though I know that social media plays a vital role, actors were not at all like that earlier and at times, I feel very vulnerable. When there is a bond between actors, it reflects a sort of synergy on the sets’.

When casting director Bhavana Rajput asked Sonali what her dream role is, Sonali Kulkarni signed off the session by stating that she still dreams of playing the role of an athlete and rued that though a producer had approached her with a role of an athlete, the project did not take off due to Covid last year.