Ravi Jadhav is betraying signs of fatigue combined with fervour, the state of being highly caffeinated and severely under-rested – not surprising since his first Hindi movie is just days away.
Jadhav orders a cappuccino anyway as he talks about his September 23 release Banjo, the challenges of conquering a new language cinema, and the lessons from his years in advertising. Banjo stars Riteish Deshmukh as a small-time musician who strikes gold with some help from Nargis Fakhri’s American DJ. “I have been wanting to make Banjo since 2010, after I made my first movie Natrang,” Jadhav said. “Banjo parties have been around for so many years, but they have never been seen as cool. These street musicians keep playing something or the other, but I never see them being commemorated on a stage or praised in public. They are not on social media, and are seen as taporis [ruffians] rather than rock stars, and I want to change that perception.”
That should be a cinch for Jadhav, one of Marathi cinema’s superstar directors with a proven ability to handle a range of subjects (folk theatre, biopics, coming of age, star-crossed romance). Jadhav has set Banjo in Worli in south-central Mumbai, where he lived until he was a teenager. Like his previous films, Banjo features handsome production design, real locations, a high-profile music score (by Vishal-Shekhar) and a subject that is similar to as well as different from Jadhav’s previous films. The plot of the Eros Entertainment production can be summed up in a single sentence – underdog becomes top dog – like his previous movies (Natrang: small-town wrestler becomes a tamasha artist to support himself; Balgandharva: a biopic of the renowned stage performer; Balak Palak: a comedy about sex education for adolescents; Timepass and Timepass 2: the seriocomic adventures of lovers from different classes and backgrounds.)
“A good story has to be very simple, even though the presentation and exhibition can be complicated,” the 44-year-old writer and director said. “Conversely, you should not take a complicated story and try to make it simple. Banjo too has a simple message: ‘Pet se dil tak’ (from the stomach to the heart.”
Before he became a director, Jadhav had spent several years worrying about communicating simply, crispy and effectively. He worked as a graphic designer and filmmaker in advertising, rising to a high position in the agency FCBUlka. Jadhav worked in advertising during the 2000s, when copy and commercials tried to forge direct, heart-felt and sometimes sentimental links with potential consumers and a tagline carried the import of an ancient saying. Banjo’s streetsmart dialogue is by Jadhav, who co-writes his Marathi films, and his former advertising colleagues Kapil Sawant and Nikhil Mehrotra.
“Films gave me a bigger canvas to express myself, but advertising taught me a few important things – for instance, every scene in my film is like a complete ad,” Jadhav said. “Take Natrang – every scene is complete in itself. Since I also worked on jingles, music plays a very important role in my films.”
Like advertising, Jadhav’s movies are also about summarising the world through key moments. “My films are based on observation – what is happening all around, what is going on in the minds of people, how are these people to be targetted, how is a film to be marketed,” he said. “Ideas are all around us, and when I see an ad or a movie I like, I ask myself, why didn’t I think of this? I know these people, I have met them, so why haven’t I done something on them? That’s how Banjo came about.”
That is also how his next movie is coming about. Jadhav is in the news for working on a biopic of Shivaji, which will star Deshmukh as the seventeenth-century warrior king, but he is also working on a potentially more interesting subject. It is called Nude, and it is about the models who drop their clothes and inhibitions for art students to earn a living. “It’s a small film, one I have wanted to work on for a while,” said Jadhav, who studied graphic design at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai. “The movie stars Kalyani Mule in the lead role along with Chhaya Kadam. I will not show nudity but will talk about it, just like we did not mention the word sex once in Balak Palak even though the film was about the need for teenagers to be given sex education.”
Will the sweet-and-pungent flavour that makes his Marathi movies do distinctive survive in Hindi? The subject will endure, Jadhav said, since “Street music sounds are not restricted to Maharashtra.”
Several Indian language filmmakers have crossed over to the Hindi medium with varying degrees of success, including Mani Ratnam, Priyadarshan, Shankar and SS Rajamouli, and Jadhav might have joined that list earlier itself, after the success of Natrang. “I got my first Hindi offer after Natrang itself, but it was to make a film yet again on folk tradition, which I didn’t want to do,” Jadhav said. “My primary audience is Maharashtrian, but when I work in Hindi, I am talking to many people across different states, with different definitions of music and heroism. It’s the difference between giving a lecture in your own home and giving a lecture in public. It is possible to forget these considerations too, but you should never forget who the story is for. If someone tells me a vulgar joke, I can’t share it with my family – you need to know who to say to whom.”
Jadhav made two of his hits, Natrang and the handsomely mounted Balgandharva, for less than Rs two crores each, but he is cautious at making too much of the Marathi-Hindi divide. Both industries operate out of the same megapolis, but they are vastly different in the kind of worlds they explore and the budgets spent on recreating these worlds. One easy explanation is that Hindi cinema looks outward towards the rest of the country and the world, while Marathi cinema looks over its shoulder. A simpler explanation is that any analysis of the supposed highs of recent Marathi cinema is grossly incomplete.
“Only one or two films like Sairat and Timepass do well every year and go to festivals, but what about the rest?” Jadhav said. “In Hindi too, the percentage is the same – only a few films really work. Marathi cinema is being talked about now only because the media has expanded in the last five years – more people are watching films, the TV industry has picked up, so have the papers and radio.”
The attention being given to Marathi cinema in non-Marathi media has certainly made directors like Ravi Jadhav popular. The next logical step for the better-known names is to make a movie in Hindi, which is just what he has done.