Behind the curtain with Milind Phatak
There are some heavy chances that you will look past him, if he sits near you. The fact remains Milind Phatak is a powerhouse when it comes to talent and his simple looks help him play that guy on the streets well. Having worked in innumerable Marathi serials, plays and films, Milind is known to the Marathi audience through his acclaimed play White Lily Aani Night Rider.
A rather upfront and contemporary black comedy, the play speaks about relationship between a middle-age man and woman who chat via the net. They have their own complexes which come in their way when they decide to meet and get into a live-in relationship. The questions regarding marriage, sexual compatibility, morals and so on seep in. Written by Milind with the late actor Rasika Joshi, they starred in it together. The play became a landmark play but post Rasika’s unfortunate death due to cancer, it lay in cans till Milind revived the play with talented actress Sonali Kulkarni. Recently, they completed their 100th show at Shivaji Mandir, Mumbai. Milind reveals, “With Sonali, it was my 100th show, but it was the 300th show for me as I had done it earlier with Rasika. I missed Rasika and the tuning with her and the process of writing it for a reason to bringing it to this stage. We wanted to make this play but had no support. Also, we were no writers.”
The play evolved from a 10 minute skit they had written and performed at an award function. After each show, Rasika and Milind would discuss their performances. But her untimely death meant Milind could not put his heart and soul into it. “A year later, many asked me to revive the play and so I asked Sonali. Thankfully, she was a big fan of Rasika and the play. She sportingly agreed. But she replaced Rasika which was a difficult thing. It was difficult initially, but Sonali brought in some of her things to make the play even bigger. During the first show with her, I had butterflies in my stomach. After a few lines, I even felt Rasika around. It was quite disturbing. As an actor you learn a lot like not getting emotional. But moments like this make you emotional and it hurts. I did not want to let Sonali feel that.”
As an actor, Milind feels that the play changed the image of a hero and also brought him his due as an actor. “The play brought everything to me, as an actor, writer and director. I got it all in one play. This was because of Rasika. I have been working in the industry for 10-12 years but of all the people, she approached me. She worked hard till the end. At one point, she was in bad condition with absolutely no strength but her last show was grand. Struggle is important and that is what she taught me. This show made me happy and emotional at the same time.”
Milind’s reasons to do White Lily Aani Night Rider were very just. Both Rasika and he had reached a saturation point, in terms of their work. “Also, I had not done a good play in some time. As said earlier, the play evolved from a 15 minutes skit about two people who chat on the net and meet in real life. When big actors kept asking about the play, we lied that it was a part of the play but forgot about it. Later, both Dilip Prabhavalkar and Dr Mohan Agashe inquired about it. We gave it a thought and sat to write it for about seven to eight months. It was interesting to write the first scene which was an erotic or vulgar chat on the net.”
They produced the play on an amateur level and the first five shows happened that way at Sudarshan Theatre. It was after legendary theatre and film personality Dr Shreeram Lagoo praised its theme that they gave a thought of making it commercially. “We later did 25 shows and stopped. Deenu Pednekar approached us to make it commercially.” Now Deenu and Sonali produce the play.
A bold play like this is not a piece of cake, especially if you want the audience from all ages and backgrounds to like it. “Initially, we had college students asking us to see the sexual compatibility contract made by the characters. We had to tell them that this was a black comedy and not do such experiments. A very senior writer invited us to her house. While eating, she told us that she is very worried for the youth of today, after seeing the play. Older women cried and wondered why such ideas never came to them. Everyone understood the play, though we had kept the middle-aged generation in mind. For example, Rasika and her husband Girish were so busy in their work that their communication would happen via technology. The same was with me and my wife and many other couples.”
The chances of meeting the character in real life or taking inspiration sets in. Milind mentions the fact that he did see characters like his in real life. “A while back, social media had just started and people would chat on Orkut and so on. We could see things like marriages being made or broken on net. The character is a 35-year-old guy who is alone and is defined by his loneliness. They are a repressed lot. I had seen some of them around and worked it towards that. We covered different facets of staying alone.”
Milind reveals the difference of both the actors. “Technically, Sonali had done theatre ages ago, while Rasika was continuously working on stage. Meanwhile, Sonali worked in films and television shows which moulded her acting style. Basically, the character is very human and so people could mould it according to their thinking. Sonali did some changes which I noticed later. It was fun. Many came to watch how Sonali did the role. But they unanimously said that she had done it nicely.” And we play along.