The upcoming ZEE5 release Kakuda is being billed as “a film by Munjya director Aditya Sarpotdar”, but Kakuda was actually completed first. Made in 2022, Kakuda owes its emergence on ZEE5 on July 11 to Munjya’s dream run.

Since its release on June 7, Munjya has notched up an estimated Rs 100 crore. Written by Yogesh Chandekar, the Maddock Films production is based on Konkani folklore about a preteen boy who, after being denied marriage with the woman he loves, dies and becomes a demon.

The cast includes Abhay Verma, Sharvari and Marathi acting veteran Suhas Joshi. The villain, who who commands a young man into doing his bidding, is a computer-generated creature.

Kakuda is broadly in the same folkloric horror-comedy zone as Munjya. Riteish Deshmukh, Sonakshi Sinha and Saqib Saleem star in a movie about a monster who targets young men in a village in Rajasthan. Kakuda channels the spirit of Maddock Films’ humour-heavy Stree (2018), just as Munjya itself references Stree as well as the Marathi classic Zapatlela (1993).

Modestly budgeted and marketed, Munjya has worked where other Hindi productions have failed. Apart from boosting Sarpotdar’s professional standing, Munjya suggests that Marathi filmmakers can bring to Hindi cinema the practices that have worked for them in their own language industry.

Rooted storytelling, an emphasis on strong screenplays rather than bankable stars, no-fuss filmmaking – these factors present in the average Marathi entertainer are there in Munjya too. After the film’s success, Sarpotdar was felicitated by a group of Marathi directors, some of whom have worked in Hindi. Ravi Jadhav, Om Raut, Sameer Vidwans, Nipun Dharmadhikari, Laxman Utekar, Rajesh Mapuskar, Avinash Arun, Tejas Deoskar, Jayprad Desai, Nikhil Mahajan and Dnyanesh Zoting were among those who put on a display of unity for their peer that is rarely seen in Bollywood.

Aditya Sarpotdar is keen to capitalise on the momentum generated by Munjya. Apart from talks of a sequel, he is also making Vampires of Vijay Nagar for Maddock Films. A fourth-generation filmmaker, Sarpotdar’s credits include Faster Fene (2017), The Sholay Girl (2019), Zombivli (2022) and Unaad (2023) as well as the web series The Raikar Case (2020). In an interview, Sarpotdar spoke about the making of Munjya and what Bollywood can learn from Marathi cinema. Here are edited excerpts.

You must be chuffed with Munjya’s success. Did you expect the film to take off the way it did?

I would be lying if I said I expected Munjya to work. It took us all by surprise.

We knew we were making an interesting film, but we were also aware that the film had hardly any big stars and a limited two-week marketing campaign. We felt that if the opening weekend threw up decent numbers, the film would pick up from Monday. But the Friday numbers itself shocked us – it was three times more than what we were expecting.

When we did theatre visits, we noticed that the first audiences were families and kids. I wanted this, since I have made the film for kids.

Horror-comedies are aimed at a mature audience. But Munjya is a 10-year-old kid who becomes a monster. If a film like this had come along when I was at that age, I would have gone to watch it too.

Yogesh Chandekar and you have spoken of the Konkani folklore that inspired Munjya. What was the journey from script to screen like?

I have always wanted to make a film on this subject. When I saw Kantara and Tumbbad, I wondered about the folklore from Maharashtra that hadn’t yet been explored.

Maddock Films approached me after Zombivli. A lot of credit goes to Yogesh to do things on paper and then envision them as a film. We aligned on everything we wanted to do with the script.

Yogesh wanted Munjya to be played by an actor with prosthetics. I had attempted that already in Kakuda, so I didn’t want to go the same route. I knew the challenges in using prosthetics. In Kakuda, the monster is played by Mahesh Jadhav, who is four feet tall. He went through a three-hour-long process of prosthetics every day.

I wanted to shoot Munjya in the summer at live locations in the Konkan. Prosthetics in the summer is a pain. So we took the call of going completely computer-generated. The feedback was that kids were intrigued by a CG character. That probably sold the idea that Munjya was a kid-friendly film, rather than a film about a grotesque-looking creature with prosthetics.

Munjya has a fresh cast, including Abhay Verma in the lead role. On the other, Marathi audiences will be deeply familiar with Suhas Joshi, who memorably plays the grandmother.

When I cast Suhas Joshi, she told me that the last film of hers that did some business in Hindi was Tezaab, which came out in 1988. I told her that I knew what an amazing actress she was, and that we were going to break the jinx.

She came in at the very last minute. We were supposed to work with a different actress who had to opt out because of health issues. Five days before the shoot started, I called Suhas Joshi and said, save me. She is brilliant.

Abhay Verma had a supporting role in Ae Watan Mere Watan, which went to Prime Video. Munjya is his first theatrical release. We don’t know who this boy is, and that is exactly why we cast him. Even for Sharvari, this is her first solo film.

[Producer] Dinesh Vijan was very clear that the film’s hero is Munjya. He wanted everyone around to support Munjya. We spent a lot on visual effects and the technical aspects.

Munjya (2024).

Had Kakuda come before Munjya, viewers would already have been familiar with your brand of horror-comedy, which you had previously explored in Zombivli. What is the difference between Kakuda and Munjya?

Kaukda was initially slotted for the end of the year. But perhaps of Munjya’s success, the film is being released now since people seem keen on horror-comedy.

Kakuda was commissioned in pandemic times, when films were being made for OTT [streaming platforms]. We shot the film in 2022. Kakuda was ready with [producer] RSVP, who was planning to sell a bunch of their films in a bundle to ZEE5, which is probably why it took a while.

Kakuda was never meant to be on the big screen, but it’s a fun watch on a smaller screen. It’s more about laughs than scares. My approach to Kakuda would have been different if it would have been a theatrical release.

When audiences watch a film on their home TVs, iPads or phones, the level of patience or attention span is limited. How you land scares or jokes, the way you shoot or edit, is different.

Horror films can’t really be enjoyed on a small screen – you’re probably watching them in broad daylight or on a train. So you need to build on the drama and the humour. For Munjya, Dinesh Vijan was confident that it was going to be a theatrical release. So we built jump scares and approached the film knowing that it would be on a big screen.

Kakuda (2022).

Munjya has a distinctly Marathi flavour. What are the learnings from Marathi cinema for the Hindi film industry?

A lot of Marathi filmmakers are making strides in Hindi cinema because they know how to make films on small budgets and a little more efficiently. This is how we have survived all these years. The intention always is to shoot on location, shoot fast and quickly, and deliver a high-concept film that is commercial.

The DNA of Munjya is very Marathi because of the folklore from which it comes. How the character is pitched and created, the language he uses, the flavour of comedy – it is very local. Maharashtrian actors played Maharashtrian characters, and they brought a lot to the film in terms of its flavour and identity.

Can success in Hindi cinema help Marathi directors? And is there a danger they will leave Marathi cinema behind?

People have told me that they revisited my Marathi films after watching Munjya – that is the biggest win for me.

I will definitely keep making films in both languages. I was recently on a call with Riteish Deshmukh to revamp the Faster Fene sequel. I would love to direct or even produce Marathi films. The approach for Marathi films is personal, indie, hands-on and instinctive.

Zombivli (2022).

Your peers in the Marathi film industry celebrated Munjya’s success. Who organised the party?

Two people were instrumental in the celebration. One was Om Raut [director of Tanhaji and Adipurush]. Om said, it’s been a long time since a Marathi filmmaker is celebrating a success with a film with a barely known cast. The other was Ravi Jadhav. Ravi and Om made a few phone calls at a couple of days’ notice and all these filmmakers turned up, which was a very sweet gesture.

Another idea behind the celebration was to show that as a community, Marathi filmmakers are very tight and very connected. In the last three-four years, a lot of Marathi filmmakers have been making Hindi content. We counted 16 filmmakers working in Hindi, and that number will only grow. Mainstream Hindi cinema is going to have a lot of Marathi filmmakers and Maharashtrian references.

You have deep roots in Marathi cinema. What does it mean to be a fourth-generation filmmaker?

My family has only ever been involved with films. At one point in college, I was contemplating doing something else and my family was shocked.

My great-grandfather, Narayanrao Sarpotdar, started the Aryan Film Company during the silent cinema period. He acted in, directed and produced many silent films. Unfortunately, the negatives were destroyed in a fire at the National Film Archive of India many years ago. I don't have copies of his films, but I do have details of the stories and the cast. For instance, Lalita Pawar made her debut in one of my great-grandfather’s films.

My grandfather was a producer and distributor. My dad was into commercials and distribution. We owned the Alka Talkies theatre in Pune for nearly 25 years. My childhood was spent in that theatre.

At the age of 19, I moved to Hyderabad to work at Ramoji Film City. My father knew Ramoji Rao, who told me that I had a free pass to join any department and learnt whatever I wanted. So from being a camera attendant to knowing how a studio worked, I got first-hand, very practical experience.

I made my first Marathi film [Ulaadhal] at the age of 23. Hindi was a whole new ballgame. It meant starting as a newcomer.

I could have easily made Munjya in Marathi too. But in Marathi, I was restricted to Maharashtra and Marathi-speaking audiences. In the Hindi film industry, the basic canvas itself is massive.

Aditya Sarpotdar.

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