Thirty-two plays that he has made so far have given theatre director Mohit Takalkar an air of catering to highbrow taste due to erudite dialogues and eccentric characters that populate the plays. He has led and spawned the movement of Marathi experimental theatre through the 15-year-long career with the Pune-based group Asakta Kalamanch. In 2014, when he turned to silver screen by making his debut film The Bright Day, the film perfectly fit in his repertoire as a personal story of self-discovery and inward journey.
Five years on, as Takalkar returns to cinema to tell the story of Medium Spicy through camera rather than his usual tools of dramaturgy, those looking at his work closely may sense a departure. The film is being dubbed as a commercial venture being produced by Landmarc Films known for Nashibvaan (2019), Redu (2018) and Vazandaar (2016), which has made commercial films with interesting, off-beat themes. Medium Spicy, co-written by Irawati Karnik with Takalkar, will have Sai Tamhankar, one of the most well-known actors of Marathi cinema, Lalit Prabhakar and Parna Pethe, and is being called an urban tale of relationships.
Although Takalkar agrees that the film may turn out to be his “most accessible work so far” and “palatable to general film-going public”, he insists that there have been very few — if not none — compromises made in the process and that the film has a very strong personal voice.
“The Bright Day was very autobiographical. It’s slightly utopian. A friend supported me to make it and it got made. The film went to numerous film festivals but was not commercially released. Medium Spicy is different. It’s a commercial film. It has many hooks and spaces to attract and interest the larger public. However, having said that, the film is still very personal. I believe that it has to have a personal voice, otherwise it will be just one of some 1,200 films that are made every year,” said Takalkar.
Born in Kalyan, Takalkar started his journey by reluctantly stepping into the shoes of the director of a college play for a theatre competition, after the director left the project just before the state level competition commenced. Later on, he founded Pune’s Asakta Kalamanch, a non-profit theatre group encouraging experimentation with theatrical form, in 2004.
He holds a postgraduate degree in Theatre Practice from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, and is a recipient of the Homi Bhabha Fellowship, Charles Wallace Scholarship and Sahitya Rangabhoomi Fellowship. He was also awarded the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2016 for his “notable talent in the field of theatre direction”. He has also acted in plays and TV shows and edited several films made by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukathankar.
For Medium Spicy, he gives credit to co-writer Karnik for making the personal story he wrote into a universal tale with which others will be able to identify.
“The earlier film scripts that I wrote were about me. This time, Ira came in as a co-writer and made the film reachable and accessible to everyone. We, along with producer Vidhi Kaslival, agreed that the film has to be lucid but at the same time shouldn’t underestimate the audience. The story has a very strong voice, that’s the common voice of me, Ira and Vidhi,” says Takalkar, who describes the film as a drama that is about relationships on the canvas of Mumbai. “It speaks about marriage, relationships and the world around us,” he adds.
Despite being a name to reckon with in Indian theatre, it wasn’t easy for Takalkar to find a producer for the film. “The story was written in 2011 and we have worked on it through the years. We must have met about 18-20 producers and all of them showed us the door. We had lost all hope by the time we met Vidhi (of Landmarc Films). She was very accommodating and got the nerve of the film immediately,” he says.
On his future in cinema, Takalkar said that he has no big ambitions from his filmmaking career. “I’m not here to become a great filmmaker. I am happy with my theatre work and what I have achieved and done so far. I turned to cinema for The Bright Day and Medium Spicy because these are the stories that can’t be told on stage and need a different medium,” he says.