Two days ago, Kirti Kulhari came up with her latest release Shaadisthan on Disney+ Hotstar and its producer Sanjay Shetty has been getting rave reviews for the film from all corners. “I am following more of the audience’s reviews. Fortunately for me, Nitesh Tiwari, the director of Dangal and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari have been giving me feedback. I was just speaking with them and that is overwhelming as these are the people I grew up with, so they will never mince their words with me. The response from them is amazing and it gives me joy that these people are liking it,” he gushes.
Before this, Sanjay had also produced Nil Battey Sannata. Ask him why he likes to back women-centric films and he responds, “We Shettys belong to a matriarchal society and in our culture, women are put first. We celebrate when daughters are born in our families, unlike a lot of other places in our country. I come from a family where we are three brothers and I remember when my younger brother was born, there were people who were crying because my parents had a son again. So, women-oriented or women empowerment stories hit home for me.” Also read: Shaadisthan Review: Kirti Kulhari And KK Menon's Road Movie Delivers A Pulsating Knock On Patriarchy
Sanjay goes on to point out that the portrayal of women in his latest film depicts his respect for womankind. “Kirti’s character in the film handles the family as well as her band. She travels as well and even cooks, but only when she wants to. These things add to the dimension of a woman. A woman can do a lot more without feeling that she has to do it rather than she wants to do it. So, that is what excited me. The stories of women are my comfort zone,” he asserts. Also read: Kirti Kulhari Parts Ways With Husband Saahil Sehgal, Says, ‘It's NOT EASY But It Is What It Is'
His upbringing is what pulls Sanjay towards women stories. “Our upbringing is what we are a product of. Our childhood shapes up our adulthood, and fortunately, I have two daughters, so I relate to such stories. You should tell a story that convinces you and you feel from your heart,” he says.
Talking about Kirti, Sanjay insists that she is a lovely person and he knew her from before. “I can’t think of another person to play the character that she did, better than her. Kirti is a thorough professional. She had started taking classical singing lessons for the film so she was hitting the notes right. The song picturised in the van in the film is in her own voice. That is something so beautiful. Who puts that kind of an effort? The rest of the band members were actual musicians, but to match up to them, she never looked out of place,” he says.
Sanjay raves that since it was Kirti’s first film that she carried on her own shoulders, she did more than enough. “Also, I would like to mention Nivedita Bhattacharya, who plays Aashi’s mom in the film, and was a revelation. She is a modern woman, but here she got out of her comfort zone. As much as I love and admire Kirti and hats off to her, she was still in her comfort zone, but for Nivedita, this was something new. To pull the veil on her face again and again was also a challenge for a woman like her, who hasn’t seen such practices in real life. So, hats off to all the women in my films,” he smiles.
Sanjay comes from Marathi cinema and ask him if he noticed any difference between Marathi and Hindi films, he says, “In Marathi, there is a very strong talent power. It’s there in Hindi too, but in Marathi, it’s so concentrated and deep rooted that the way you read a line, the other person does it in the same fashion that it is supposed to be. In Uttarayan, it was such a cake walk with Neena Kulkarni and Shivaji Satam. In Hindi, you have to tell the actors what you mean as the diction of Hindi changes from place to place. Even between Haryana, Delhi and UP, the diction changes. So, every little thing has to be pointed out in Hindi films,” he points out.
As for Uttarayan, Sanjay won a National Award for this 2004 Marathi film in the Best Feature Film in Marathi category. Ask him if that honour kind of added any pressure on him while switching to Hindi cinema and he disagrees. “If you carry such baggage, you are only burdening yourself. And I got my National Award from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, so after that, you never feel a sense of loss. The only loss is that he isn’t there anymore. Nothing can match up to that, whatever happens in future,” he maintains.
Sanjay has done direction in Marathi and is now ready to delve into that in Hindi as well with a film called Siachen Warriors. “It is an army movie and I am very close to the Indian army. I have trained them as well in real life and I was myself trained in Israel. So, I want to do this film a lot. Unfortunately, the lockdown was announced right after its announcement. I am still waiting to cast an actor for it, but everything else is final. Dangal writer, Piyush, has written the script for it and Nitesh and Ashwiny are producing it. It will have a theatrical release only. Meanwhile, I am also working on an OTT series which is also a matriarchal story, very close to reality and based on my ancestral family,” he signs off.
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