Nagraj Manjule suddenly finds himself the claimant of the enviable position of being the director of the highest grossing Marathi film. Sairat, a searing indictment of caste discrimination, features two absolutely unknown, untried faces in the lead. Made at a reported cost of Rs 4 crore, the film has already grossed more than Rs 60 crore. And it’s still early.
The film’s shy director, Nagraj Manjule, is no stranger to fame. His first feature film Fandry too was highly acclaimed. However, he is not comfortable with the sudden upsurge of public attention. His phone is switched off most of the day, to avoid strangers calling up.
Says Nagraj, “For Maharashtrians, Sairat is not a film, it’s a part of their lives.”
What surprises Nagraj is the way non-Maharashtrians have taken to the film. “This is most unexpected. I knew the film would make an impact. But I never knew it would cross the language barrier so easily. When Aamir Khan or Irrfan tweets about the film, it’s a huge thing for me.”
Nagraj, who comes from a very humble background, says Sairat was a story that had to be told. “I knew it would make an impact because this is not just a story written to accommodate a film. Its theme of inter-caste relationship and marriage connects with our entire country. So I won’t pretend that the success was unexpected. In fact, I had warned my two lead actors that it would be near-impossible for them to step out of their homes alone once the film released. I told them to enjoy the freedom of movement as long as they were shooting.”
How Nagaraj chose two completely unknown and untried actors, Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru, to play the leads is another story. “My brother saw Akash on the street and told me that he was the boy I was looking for to play Parshya in my film. I met Akash. He was so shy, he could barely mumble a few words. But it didn’t take much persuasion to get him on board. As for Rinku Rajguru, she is the daughter of a lady I know in my village. I knew she was Archie the minute I saw her.” Nagraj worked extensively with his two principal actors to ensure they got the rhythm right. “It was important for them to not look like actors. They had to transform into the two protagonists — Akash and Archie. Luckily this is exactly what happened. Audiences see them as the characters.”
Borrowed from his life?
Though many moments in the couple’s courtship and togetherness has a ring of authenticity, Nagraj says he hasn’t borrowed much from his own life this time.
“Yes, I am from a backward section of society, just like my hero. In some way or another, both my films have touched on caste discrimination. My first film Fandry was almost like my own story. Sairat is far less personal. I haven’t borrowed from my own life, except that I’ve been rejected in love because I was unworthy of the girl. The sequence where Parshya places flowers on Archie’s chappals when she is inside the temple is taken from my own life.”