A man of many parts, Mahesh Manjrekar is now making waves in the web circuit. After an impressive performance as a cricket coach in the Netflix series Selection Day, Manjrekar is being appreciated for his role as an aging husband in Shaad Ali’s Pawan & Pooja on MX Player.
What made you accept Pawan & Pooja?
I liked the concept and role. Not to mention a great cast featuring the likes of Deepti Naval, Gul Panag, and Sharman Joshi. As the shoot progressed, I realised, I made the right choice. The story is about three different couples in the present times which have complications in their lives. So they are Pawan and Pooja in three different generations. Whatever age you are in, there are always complications in every relationship. People who say that have a perfect relationship are lying. We are talking about two different individuals in a relationship. How can there be no complication? The whole idea of making a successful love story is accepting each other’s problems, accommodating each other’s problems, and then sorting out the complications. In the series, we have tried not to be judgemental or strive for happy endings. The stories are presented as they are.
Tell us about the dynamics between the characters played by you and Deepti Naval.
I remember Deepti Naval from the film Ek Baar Phir. She really came across as a breath of fresh air in that film. She was also wonderful in films like Chashme Buddoor and Katha. She was very different from the heroines of the time. So I always liked her approach to cinema. She would never go overboard and did her job peacefully. The Pawan and Pooja that I and Deepti play have been married for 30 years. So they got married at a time when women didn’t have much of a choice. In a way, Pawan is complicit in the kind of life that she has lived. He loves her but as the husband, he is very happy knowing that he is the only bright spot in her life. Maybe, he has even taken her for granted. And then something happens which really shakes him up.
How do you see the web as a medium vis-à-vis cinema?
When I started my career, I wanted to be an actor. But that time there weren’t many opportunities. So I did a lot of stage plays. But today there is so much work for any good actor. Now, when you are doing the web, people aren’t actually bothered whether you are a saleable actor or not. They only see if it’s the right actor or not for the role. Also, today talent has got precedence over your star value. So, it’s a great phase to be an actor.
You do a wide variety of films across different industries. How do you manage to strike a balance?
I acted in Kaante because Sanjay Gupta insisted me to do it. At that time, I had never thought that I would be acting in films. Later on, I reached a point where I got sick and tired of doing the typical Hindi cinema kind of roles which they wanted me to do. I thought that I should do Marathi cinema as I knew that there I would be able to explore different subjects. But I also need the money and acting is my bread and butter. So I started doing Bollywood films merely for money. And there I don’t differentiate. I just ask them what they want me to do and the money that I would get paid for it and I just deliver. Even if they want me to do buffoonery, I give them that. I have compartmentalised that well. I don’t get hassled when I am doing a role that looks idiotic to me.
You haven’t been as prolific as a director as compared to your contemporaries despite having made critically and commercially successful films like Vaastav and Natsamrat
Let me tell you what happens. I did a film called Kaksparsh which I think is one of my best works. Last year, I did a two-part film on the life of playwright and humorist P. L. Deshpande, which I loved doing. I consider Astitva, which I did two decades back, to be my best film. Then I have recently done Panghrun, releasing in April, which I feel would be my best work yet. So I am doing my own stuff. I don’t want to compromise it for the sake of money. If I need money, I can always go and act. The industry, somewhere, doesn’t understand me. You must understand that there are camps here – I am not talking about nepotism – I am talking about camps. And they are dangerous. They have this mentality of not letting anybody come into those camps. It doesn’t work for me. After I am done with the work, I don’t hang out for parties. I also avoid award functions. I just don’t like all that. I am comfortable in my space doing films that I want to.
You contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai North West. What went wrong with your innings in politics?
I would have ideally loved to make my own political party with people who are actually on the same wavelength. I did join politics but I soon realised that this was not what I wanted. The problem is that there are few leaders around who are actually trying to address people’s problems. Mostly what we get to see is divide and rule politics where people are being used by politicians. Now, I wouldn’t like to give it another shot until I have some like-minded people who are actually interested in addressing people’s problems. Let’s see if that ever happens.