Monday, August 12, 2013

Hitting the Right Notes

Bollywood actor Makarand Deshpande has made a mark, by playing a musician, in the blockbuster Malayalam hit, 'Amen'

By Shevlin Sebastian

The drunk music band leader Pothachen (Makarand Deshpande) makes his entrance in the Malayalam film, 'Amen', by jumping fully-dressed – in a multi-coloured jacket and white cap – into the river. Then he swims to the shore, climbs out, and enters a bar, where he has a confrontation with another band leader, Louis Pappen (Kalabhavan Mani). They had been rivals for years.

Makarand breaks a glass, picks up a piece, chews and swallows it. Thereafter, he takes a patch of blood from his bloodied mouth and wipes it on the edge of the clarinet, all the time looking, with narrowed eyes, at Louis Pappen. The scene is riveting, to say the least.

When I read the script, I got very excited by Pothachan's entrance,” says Makarand, a notable actor in Bollywood. “Pothachan takes part in inter-church competitions and is determined to win each time. He is ambitious as well as arrogant.”

It is a movie that is steeped in a Christian ethos, and set in the village of Kumarangeri in Kuttanad, south Kerala. So, did he have a problem understanding the mind-set? “Not at all,” says Makarand. “I grew up in Bandra in Mumbai, where I had a lot of Catholic friends. And with them I would attend midnight mass during Christmas, and, sometimes, on Sunday mornings.”

Makarand is not surprised that 'Amen' has become a blockbuster hit and completed 100 days. “There was an energy on the set which was wonderful,” he says. “It was similar to what I felt when I was shooting for 'Satya' [Director Ram Gopal Varma's big hit, in 1998, on the Mumbai underworld]. Back then, all of us knew that we were making something special even as the shoot was going on. I felt the same in 'Amen'.

On the set, what gladdened Makarand was the way the locals took him to heart. “The people clapped whenever I did a shot,” he says. “Perhaps it was because I was doing over-the-top acting.” The Bollywood actor also looked outlandish, with his wildly growing brown hair and thick moustache and beard.

Director Lijo Jose Pellissery says that the people had not seen an actor like Makarand before. “So they felt entertained by his performance,” he says.

Makarand's most moving moment occurred when the last day's shoot was completed at 2 a.m. He was standing on a stage and there were 200 junior artistes milling around, because the climax was a competition between two bands outside a church in front of a large crowd.

Lijo got up on the stage and said, “We admire and respect Makarand's professionalism and his co-operation throughout the shoot.” The producer, Fareed Khan, then gave a gift to Makarand. Later, when the Bollywood actor opened it, he got a shock. It was his favourite Tissot watch. “I could not believe it,” he says. “I was so happy that I was in tears.”

Makarand is also happy about the present direction of Mollywood. “Earlier, film-makers in Kerala were obsessed only about the content,” he says. “Now they have become tech-savvy. They are using the latest equipment, just like in Bollywood.”

And there are similarities which he noticed. “There is a passion in both industries to make good films,” says Makarand. “The good news is that Mollywood is getting producers for off-beat films. I am glad that an off-beat film like 'Amen' has found such a large audience.”

And thanks to the film, Makarand has also gained a large audience in Kerala. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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