Four years ago, Riteish Deshmukh made his debut in Marathi cinema as a producer with Lai Bhaari. His maiden venture went on to do over Rs 40 crore business at the box office. Proud of his Marathi legacy, the actor returns to the same space with Mauli. He tells After Hrs why there has been a long gap between both the movies, how he strikes a balance between regional and Hindi cinema as well as his learnings as a producer. Excerpts…
Would you say that Lai Bhaari is instrumental in changing people’s perception towards Marathi cinema?
Let’s not give Lai Bhaari that credit. It all started with films like Shwaas (2004) and Harishchandrachi Factory (2009), which won the National Award and were selected as India’s official entries to the Oscars. That’s when people started noticing the kind of content that was being generated in the Marathi industry. There are two parameters for films — content and commerce. But when the numbers started coming in, things changed. It began with Balak Palak (2013) which made Rs 12 crore. Then came Duniyadari that raked in Rs 25 crore. In 2015, Timepass 2 did around Rs 30 crore and after that, Lai Bhaari broke the Rs 40 crore mark as it had action and drama. So, Marathi industry was not only producing content but also making good numbers.
Natsamrat, which released in 2016, set the cash registers ringing with Rs 50 crore. Three months later, Sairat managed to cross the Rs 90 crore mark at the box office. Rs 90 crore in Marathi is almost like a Rs 300-400 crore film in Hindi. No Hindi movie, barring Baahubali, has done that much business in Maharashtra. Interestingly, all these flicks that have done these numbers opened in the same range of Rs 2-3 crore. So, now the aim is to increase the opening figures. But how do we do that? Do we increase shows? Because then, Hindi films will also take these shows up. So, it’s a double fight.
Regional and Hindi cinema fighting for screens has always been the case…
Yes, and it will continue to be so. There’s nothing bad with that. Everyone wants the best for their films. Now, it’s up to the audience to watch whatever they want to. But the only thing is that the other person should at least get a decent opportunity to showcase. Opportunity is an issue here.
You even moved your film, as a sign of love and respect for Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero…
Shah Rukh is doing the biggest movie of his career, in terms of production, and it’s an amazing film that he’s bringing to life. Mauli is the biggest film that my production house is making. The scales are completely different, and so are the budgets. I was releasing it on December 21 because it’s the holiday season. Initially, Total Dhamaal was supposed to open in cinemas on December 7. So, I wanted to keep a two-week gap between both my movies. With Total Dhamaal shifting to February 2019, I realised that if Mauli releases along with Zero, the business of both the movies would get affected. That’s when I decided that my Marathi movie should hit the marquee a week earlier. So, it has worked out well for Shah Rukh and me. And I’m glad we could do so for each other’s betterment.
What took you four years to come back with Mauli?
We were planning to release it sooner. We had developed it and announced it. However, later, we realised it’s not what it should be. After that, I got busy.
Does it become difficult to juggle between the two industries?
It is difficult but the responsibility I have for my Marathi films and productions is much more. I have to sit on everything — right from the font of the poster to whose name will be placed where. In the case of my Hindi films Housefull or Dhamaal franchise, I only have to do my photoshoots and promote the film. Life as a producer is challenging, engaging and extremely gratifying. It’s amazing to see how a script comes to fruition.
Is Mauli a takeaway from Lai Bhaari?
No, it’s not a part two. It’s a different story. But the essence and the premise remains the same.
People are increasingly remaking Marathi films in other languages…
There’s a certain sense of recognition today. Cinema and entertainment will soon be language agnostic. I’m watching a Spanish series with subtitles on my TV and enjoying it as it’s exciting. Mumbai is a true cosmopolitan city in the country where statistically 35 per cent of the population is Marashtrian while the remaining constitutes people from different corners. When a film becomes the talk-of-the-town, everyone gets excited to go and watch it. The non-Marathi speaking audience has also started watching our films, which is a great boon to our industry.
Have you ever thought of dubbing Mauli in Hindi and releasing it across India?
No, because if I had thought that way, I would have made it in Hindi. One should not confuse the basic core reason behind creating a movie. And that’s your audience. A Hindi version will take away a lot from the way I wanted to make the Marathi movie. Dubbing is an option. Mauli and Lai Bhaari both can be remade as great Hindi films too. But as of now, let’s see what happens.
Lai Bhaari was a huge success. So, the expectations from this film are quite high. Are you feeling the pressure?
No. Lai Bhaari, Sairat and other films were loved by the audience and that’s why they fared so well at the box office. If Mauli has to do the same business as Lai Bhaari, it has to be appreciated by viewers. Because of my debut Marathi film, I got the courage to make Mauli a bigger film in terms of budget, scale, action and songs. But if you think I’m looking at a business more than Lai Bhaari, then no, I can’t gauge that right now. Box office figures don’t matter, people’s reactions do. If people connect to the film, it will do good. Unfortunately, today we’re only discussing collections, which are immaterial. In recent times, smaller films have done Rs 100-crore business solely because of their strong connect.