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Atul Kulkarni: ‘I don’t do what people want me or expect me to do’

Atul Kulkarni says the kind of energy the current breed of actors and directors bring to the sets leaves him charged up to perform better. “The new generation is much ahead of us in terms of information and confidence. They are fast learners which keeps you on your toes, about how you need to update your knowledge,” Kulkarni said.

The seasoned actor, who is currently ruling the digital space with noteworthy performances across OTT platforms, is here with the second season of City of Dreams on Disney Plus Hotstar. “We got delayed because of the lockdown, but people kept waiting for it. When your first season is such a hit, there’s a lot of anticipation for its new season,” Kulkarni said in an exclusive chat with idianexpress.com.

City of Dreams season 2 brings back the actor in the character of Amey Rao Gaikwad, who is up against his own daughter, played by Priya Bapat to rule the state of Maharashtra. The political drama has been directed by ace filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor and also stars Sachin Pilgaonkar, Eijaz Khan, Sushant Singh and others.

Kulkarni raveled that Nagesh had shared the idea of season two’s basic plotline, while narrating its debut season itself. “But this time the story had gone much ahead in terms of craft, writing and characters. I told Nagesh that it’s even better than the first season. Now, whether we’ve done justice to that script or not is what we are looking forward to.”

He further credited the director and his team for creating a comfortable environment, where the actors could give in their best shot. He believes Nagesh Kukunoor fought a bigger challenge at the scripting stage while making a switch from films.

“Nagesh has his own kind of narratives and I knew the direction I was headed into. When we stepped in his world, it had his style of depth and discipline. Of course the format was different, but writing for a web show is more difficult because of the vast scope. It includes the material of four-five films. So I believe he had already surpassed that bigger challenge at the writing level to handle a digital show. When he made that shift from a filmmaker to a creator of an OTT show, he had completed his personal journey which was even reflecting in his script,” Kulkarni opined.

Atul Kulkarni is reprising his character of Amey Rao Gaikwad in City of Dreams season 2.

Kulkarni has recently been part of several web shows on various digital channels, including a lot of them going into their next seasons. Does reprising his characters become difficult due to the expectations attached from the previous installment? Giving an interesting analogy, the NSD passout explained, “Theatre performances don’t get recorded or documented even if your character grows over time. In films, once a shot is okayed, you cannot change it ever in life. Web show is a place where you can continue playing a character across seasons. As years go by, you change as a person too, you gain experience. In such scenario, that change will also reflect on your onscreen performance. And when even the graph of that character is growing in the show, it becomes a very interesting process.”

The seasoned actor has given us noteworthy performances over the years in award winning movies like Chandni Bar, Hey Ram, Rang De Basanti and The Ghazi Attack, along with Marathi film Natarang, Kannada film Edegarike and more. He confessed that he’s deliberately tried to not repeat the kind of roles he takes up. “I do what people don’t want me to do and I don’t do what people expect me to do,” he said.

But how does he strike a balance when his characters do things that don’t convince him at a human level? “That’s my job. I don’t start searching for myself in every character I play. There’s a definition in cinema – A pretends to be B and C watches. So my job is to pretend to be B. I don’t think I faced any such conflict because we are trained to not think what we are, but to think what the character is and how best I can do that,” Kulkarni shared.

rang de basanti film stills Atul Kulkarni along with co-stars Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor and Siddharth in a still from Rang De Basanti.

We ask him if he ever feels the pressure of staying relevant on social media, and Kulkarni opens up about his take on the pretence there. According to him social media needs to be a reflection of one’s personality, and not a place where “sab chalta hai”.

“Your social media handle is an extended version of your personality and you need to have a certain truth to it. I need to look and write exactly what I am in real life on such platforms. So if I end up writing something that doesn’t represent my personal thoughts, I’ll get caught. Today it’s all about two way communication because even audience can reach out to you. And this has changed the entire texture. So I need to move with the changing times,” he expressed.

We remind him about the love his Laxman Pandey aka Ramprasad Bismil from Rang De Basanti continues to receive, with special reference to the “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna” poem. He smiles and says, “It’s a cult film which no more belongs to us. The day it released, it became people’s property. Today, we also see it as part of the audience. That’s what happens with such films, they become integral to that era and continue to remain in the memories. Generations have passed but it is still being loved by the new audience. It’s a great feeling to have,” he concludes.

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