He has been in the industry for over a decade and established himself as the go-to guy for comic characters. But it is in his new avatar as a producer that Riteish Deshmukh is making big news. His first two films, Balak Palak and Yellow — both Marathi — have received critical acclaim for addressing subjects that even Bollywood is yet to explore. That Yellow features thrice in the list of National Awards announced recently has only made the success sweeter for the actor-producer. In this interview, Riteish Deshmukh talks about backing Marathi cinema, experimenting with roles and how his choice of films as an actor drastically differs from that as a producer.
You have had a fantastic stint as a producer, with Balak Palak and Yellow. Why did you choose to turn producer with Marathi cinema as opposed to Hindi, where you have established yourself as an actor?
This isn’t about backing cinema of a certain language, but about believing in the content I am producing. Both Yellow and Balak Palak are stories that needed to be told and I am glad I, along with my co-producer Uttam Thakur, got a chance to bring them to the audience. That said, Marathi cinema does have the advantage — it’s not driven by stars and commerce so one can experiment with content. Also the audience is more receptive to offbeat stories.
So it’s easy to back offbeat themes in Marathi? Balak Palak is about a group of teenagers battling adolescence while Yellow is the story of a girl with Down Syndrome who becomes a swimming champion.
Not really, it is difficult to release such films even within the Marathi film industry. One needs conviction in whatever one is doing. If it’s fake, it shows on screen. But my third Marathi production, Lai Bhari, directed by Nishikant Kamat, is a complete commercial entertainer. It’s an action revenge drama, which hasn’t been seen in Marathi
For your role as a producer, do you draw from your experience in Bollywood?
It’s a give and take of knowledge. Bollywood has taught me that getting the best technicians on board can make a lot of difference to a film. So Mahesh Limaye who directed Yellow has been a cinematographer on Hindi films, and Balak Palak’s music was composed by Vishal-Shekhar.
Mostly actors are chosen to play characters with disabilities. What prompted the decision to cast regular people with Down Syndrome in Yellow?
It was the director’s decision. He didn’t want actors playing characters with disabilities. So he cast Gauri Gadgil to play herself in the film. Working with Gauri was fine because she’s old enough to understand what was going on, but Sanjana Rai, who plays the younger Gauri needed the team’s compassion during the shoot. Given her condition, she didn’t understand that continued…