By Shweta Parande
Actor, writer, and director Chinmay Mandlekar has no qualms about playing any interesting role that comes his way. After having essayed the glorious warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in as many as four major films in Marathi, the National School of Drama graduate surprised fans by essaying the role of the hardcore terrorist and separatist Bitta Karate aka Farooq Ahmed Dar in 2022’s most successful film The Kashmir Files.
Chinmay Mandlekar will now be seen as Nathuram Godse in acclaimed filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi’s film Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh that releases on January 26, 2023 on Republic Day and ahead of Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary on January 30. The film is a fictional take on history, where Mahatma Gandhi is shown to survive the assassination attempt by Nathuram Godse, and the clash of ideologies.
Cine Blitz talks to Chinmay Mandlekar on playing two controversial characters – Nathuram Godse and Bitta Karate in The Kashmir Files – and on his process of acting. Read on.
Please talk about your role in Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh.
I am playing Nathuram Godse. The film is about Gandhi and Godse’s confrontation – it is not a physical confrontation but of their ideologies. In real life, these two figures never came face-to-face before the fateful moment of the assassination on January 30. The film is a historical fantasy. It’s a ‘What if’ film about what would happen if these characters came face-to-face. Having said that, the writing in the film is not entirely fiction. Whatever Gandhi and Godse say are verbatim the thoughts they have expressed throughout their lifetime – in their writings, speeches, newspaper articles…those lines belong to Gandhi and Godse, and not the dialogue writer.
So there is a level of authenticity to the film. It is not fiction except for the part where Gandhiji is alive after the attack on him.
I would say the vessel is fictional but the curry in the vessel is very real.
From playing emperor and warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in so many films, which in itself is an achievement because of the kind of figure he was, to essaying separatist Bitta Karate in The Kashmir Files – a complete contrast to Shivaji who fought the Mughals – and then to controversial historical figure Nathuram Godse, who is Gandhi’s assassin for most people and a hero for others. What was the thought that came to your mind when the role in Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh was offered to you?
There were no thoughts about ‘Should I be doing this or not?’ – because, after all, it was a Rajkumar Santoshi film. And I believed that Rajji will not do this film to demonise Gandhiji or show Godse in a light which is not becoming of him, or even to create some controversy. If Rajkumar Santoshi is doing a film, it will be because he has something to say. He has done a film like The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002), which was a kind of an eye-opening film for everybody of that generation.
As far as Nathuram Godse is concerned, as a Maharashtrian I feel we know a bit more about him than the others because we have had certain plays and books on him, like Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy. So, my perception about this man has always been that his heart was in the right place and he was thinking on certain lines, but his final action (of assassination)…that is where the problem is.
Who was Nathuram Godse, according to you?
Nathuram Godse was not a terrorist. Before the 30th of January, what was Nathuram Godse? He was a person staying in Pune, decently educated, running his own newspaper and writing fervently for it, following a certain school of thought, and an ardent patriot, something which came across in his earlier writings. But maybe due to the disillusionment that came after India’s Independence and especially the Partition, he must’ve gone through a certain thought process that finally culminated in him assassinating Gandhi.
Was Godse provoked by anyone or simply disillusioned? What did you learn from his experience while researching for the role?
Post that act in 1948, there was complete chaos and he could’ve tried to run away – those were not days with Z-plus security or CCTV cameras. But he stood there, got caught, faced the trial, accepted what he had done and got punished for it. That is not what a terrorist does. My angle is, Godse got misled in his actions. The learning for me after 75 years of the incident is that a bullet is not the answer to my questions. Even after he had shot Gandhi, whatever he was hoping for or fighting for didn’t happen in the country.
In 2011, there was Anna Hazare’s Lokpal Andolan (the anti-corruption movement). I firmly believed then that India was going to change. We all felt like joining his movement. And today in 2023, we feel that nothing has changed – except that one political party (Aam Aadmi Party) got formed. At that time, I was younger and was disillusioned when nothing changed. Similarly, Godse must have been disillusioned.
But what I learnt from Nathuram Godse’s experience is that the answer to disillusionment is not through a bullet. He shot someone but the issues were not solved; they became more complicated – the Partition or the other issues at the time. He admitted that he was not provoked by anyone.
At the peak of the COVID times, we did not know what was going to happen. Now we can sit back and laugh and talk about it. But when we were going through it…I remember telling someone that like World War II lasted for so many years, COVID may also last long. That was the thought process at that time. So, one never knows.
Yeah, and there were no vaccines then. What did you go through in the pandemic?
I used to think, this would last long, and worry about how my kids are going to grow up. And in the second wave, more people started dying…even in my own circle. That was very scary.
In the process of acting, how easy or difficult is it for you to get out of one intense character and into another? These are completely different roles that you have done, and many are actually based on real-life people.
It is a coincidence that many of my characters have been based on real-life figures. As for the acting process, no, I will not be someone who will say that it took me a lot of time to come out of it. After a point, I think such claims are a fraud. We have our own life post work. Having a family to go to or a life other than your work, really helps you. Yes, when you are doing a project, you are in it and thinking about it. But even during the shooting, I was not roaming around like Godse, angry at the world. I was being myself.
Some people do it and they call it method acting…
It’s bull s**t. It’s fraud. There’s no such thing as method acting. I will tell you where the method is applied. If I am playing a blind person, to get used to the fact and understand how and what a blind person goes through, I may walk around the house blindfolded. That is method acting – when I start doing and checking what physical changes I may need. When we act in plays, as a director I always tell my actors to get used to wearing a particular costume – say, a saree – if they are not used to it. That is method acting. But actors who claim that I played a psychopath and then started thinking like one, is not true.
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But it does happen that sometimes an actor is stuck in the role in his mind…
Then the process has gone all wrong, and he needs to see a psychiatrist. But if it works for someone, god help him, but I am not like that.
The Kashmir Files film continues to be controversial. Please talk about your role as the dreaded Bitta Karate. Was it tough for you to play the main negative character in a film like this? Especially after having played Shivaji Maharaj so many times and having a certain fan-following, were you trolled for it?
For me, being cast in the role of a Kashmiri guy was a surprise because I am a Maharashtrian. Kashmiris are very fair-skinned generally, but the accent comes easier to me. That’s God’s gift – I am able to pick up accents. And Bhasha Sumbli, who plays the role of Sharda Pandit in the film, is a Kashmiri and she helped me a lot. Also, there were a lot of videos of Bitta for reference. As an actor, getting a role like Bitta is a dream come true. Fortunately, I have not been trolled for it. I especially thank the Marathi audience, because they knew that I have played Shivaji Maharaj. They accepted it with an open heart. In fact, a lot of Marathi guys whom I don’t even know, put it on their social media that this is the guy who has played both the roles – Shivaji and Bitta Karate. It was very touching.
So, as an actor you are open to playing anything that interests you…But did you go deep inside the persona of Bitta – he is still alive…
There was a lot of research available to me. The character in The Kashmir Files is based on two people – one is Bitta Karate, who was kind of a brainless henchman and later arrested, and the other is mastermind Yasin Malik, the Kashmiri separatist leader who was recently convicted.
When the script of The Kashmir Files came to you, what did you feel about the role and the subject? Did you feel for or against it?
The only thing I asked director Vivek Agnihotri was, “Whatever’s written in the script, is it true? Is it authentic?” He gave me a list of reference materials. I also knew that this had happened, because I have Kashmiri friends who have had to leave their homes. But the gravity and the intensity of it was revealed to me only after going through the entire script and research material. As for the controversy, no one has said that what has been shown in the film has not happened. It has happened. If you are saying that certain things were not shown in the film – that is a filmmaker’s prerogative.
Prominent people have said The Kashmir Files is a propaganda film although it shows both sides…
My question is, propaganda of what? Please tell us.
For playing Godse, being a Maharashtrian yourself, were you required to have the Maharashtrian Brahmin accent?
Not while I was speaking in Hindi. It’s a Hindi film and Rajji told me not to put a Marathi accent in the Hindi dialogues. Yes, certain dialogues are in Marathi. But not a put-on accent.
How was it working with the master filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi?
Fantastic. It’s like a dream come true, and he is like a legend. Just look at the kind of films he has made and the actors he has worked with – the biggest superstars of India. It’s a big thing that my name will be included in Rajkumar Santoshi’s filmography.
What are your forthcoming projects?
I’m doing Maddock Films’ Happy Teachers Day by Mikhil Musale, which will release around Teachers Day in September. It also stars Nimrat Kaur and Radhika Madan. And a Netflix show called Kaala Paani – well, not that Kala Paani, but a medical fiction show that is very interesting.