Amruta Khanvilkar
Amruta Khanvilkar Image Credit: Supplied

Global icon Priyanka Chopra Jonas singled out this Marathi film urging her fans to check it out, while Bollywood idol Madhuri Dixit gave her resounding nod of approval.

We are talking about ‘Chandramukhi’, one of those rare Marathi films which is enjoying a bullish run at the box-office in this region.

This period drama, starring Amruta Khanvilkar and Addinath Kothare, has been renewed to play for the second week straight in UAE cinemas and has eclipsed star-studded Bollywood films such as ‘Heropanti 2’ with Tiger Shroff and Tara Sutaria that released around the same time.

“I feel an immense sense of validation and reflected pride,” said Khanvilkar in an interview with Gulf News.

“I play the title role and we have worked so hard — around two and a half years — for this film. There were several sacrifices that were made. As Shah Rukh Khan famously said: ‘Nobody can shake your faith once you have faith’. And it’s my absolute faith in my producers, director, and in this subject that has helped us get here,” she added.

Khanvilkar, who is a leading actress in the Marathi film circles, plays a gracious Lavni [traditional dance form native to the Indian state of Maharashtra] dancer who falls in love with a rising politician (Kothare). He’s married and the affair could cost him his career and his family, she cautioned.

Amruta Khanvilkar, the Marathi talent who has spearheaded 'Chandramukhi' Image Credit: Supplied

The film has a UAE connect too. It’s produced by Vistas Media, a distribution company based out of Abu Dhabi Media Zone and its Chief Operating Officer Intikhab Chougle claimed that there was initially some resistance to releasing a Marathi musical in cinemas here.

“Many were reluctant to release a Marathi film in cinemas because in the past only two Marathi films have released and they didn’t get a great response ... Perhaps it was due to lack of marketing .. But ‘Chandramukhi’ has overturned those traditions,” said Chougle.

The stars of 'Chandramukhi' with producer Chougle
The stars of 'Chandramukhi' with producer Chougle Image Credit: Supplied

Both the actress and the producers labelled ‘Chandramukhi’ as their labour of love. Excerpts from our interview with Khanvilkar on the resurgence of Marathi cinema, breaking into Bollyood and the existence of the casting couch …

What can you tell me about your role in ‘Chandramukhi’?

Lavni is a dying art form that originated from Maharashtra and is the base for our native folk art. If you look at the history behind Lavni dancers, they have been looked down upon because their dance is ‘shringarik’ (romantic and sensuous).

This is my first titular role in my 12-year-old career. My title role of Chandramukhi is that of a Lavni dancer who originates from the interiors of Maharashtra. She’s a devotee of Hindu deity Krishna and has given all her life to Lavni and tamasha [drama]. She is as pure as her art form and believes in selling that art. In ‘Chandramukhi’ we are highlighting this and how Chandramukhi is committed despite facing many hurdles in her life. It’s the story of her life and emblematic of many other dancers who go through the same issues.

From the trailer, it’s evident that your character falls in love with a politician and reflects upon the class divides. He comes across as privileged, while your character is not visible to mainstream society. Does the film tackle those power dynamics between the have and the have-nots?

In Maharashtra, politics and tamasha (musicals) have always been interconnected. In politics, you will see many art lovers and there has always been politics in love and in tamasha … There’s a huge class difference between the two protagonists since Lavni is looked down upon.

Through this film, we have tried to give the art form legitimacy and dignity. What baffles me is how this art form that’s enjoyed vastly isn’t given that dignity it deserves. In ‘Chandramukhi’, the love story between my character and her bond with a politician has so much dignity just like how the art form should be viewed ideally. ‘Chandramukhi’ is an out-and-out family entertainer set in the ’80s era. It’s not a politically-charged drama about an extra-marital affair. Our true triumph is that ‘Chandramukhi’ is now being loved by young and the old alike.

A still from 'Chandramukhi'
A still from 'Chandramukhi' Image Credit: Supplied

Extra-marital affair and family entertainer sounds like an oxymoron. At the end of the day, your character is having a relationship with a married man. Were you worried that your character will be trapped in that home-wrecker trope?

My character Chandramukhi is so pure and where does that purity come from? It comes from the unending love for her art. She’s emblematic of all the societal norms that’s being broken in her field. She originates from a small town who loves her art and her love for the politician stems from him being a person who loves and appreciates her art … She views him with purity.

There’s a thin line that we had to maintain and we were aware that a slight misstep would cost us heavily. At the end of the film, you will feel sorry for all the characters, including his wife Dolly, Chandramukhi, and him. Finally, my character gets engulfed in a lot of dirty politics and how she conducts herself forms the crux of the film. She finally saves him and his family from being humiliated.

Will this film’s success help in spurring other Marathi filmmakers to become more ambitious and release their films in UAE cinemas and beyond?

It’s high time that regional cinema – apart from the South Indian films that’s having a re-awakening now – aims higher. By regional cinema, I mean Gujarati and Bengali films. Today, no content is big or small. It’s all about having great content. I watch Korean web series and films now, and I didn’t know about it two years ago. So if foreign language like Korean can rule us then why not Marathi cinema? We are a thriving film industry in Maharashtra, just like how Bollywood is thriving. We shouldn’t be left behind. It was my dream with ‘Chandramukhi’ to break the glass ceiling and to shatter it. I hope my peers are inspired by our success. Even though I was extremely unwell, I have been promoting this film rabidly. I don’t have space for any regrets when it comes to this film. I have been pushing the envelope and how.

You don’t come from an acting dynasty and you have made it big on your own steam in Marathi cinema? Did your parents always support your life choices to become an actor?

Honestly, my parents did roll their eyes when I told them about my acting ambitions. But I was born to be an artist and I was born to be a dancer. Many joke that I can play Chandra in my sleep and that’s because I am so passionate about my art form. I want my art to reach a wide audience. I always thank God for filling me with such talent and passion. When I leave this earth, I want to be empty within.

Amruta Khanvilkar
Amruta Khanvilkar Image Credit: Instagram/AmrutaKhanvilkar

The entertainment industry has come under scrutinies lately because of its exploitative and transactional nature. Have you gone through any such sordid experiences during your early days?

No, not really. But there’s always exploitation on different levels. It’s not just about casting couch here; it could be about being exploited for your time. You are often promised a film and then there’s no word. And all of that counts as exploitation.

There are times when you fall flat on your face while building any career … I always knew what I didn’t want to do and that clarity helped. I wanted my merit and talent to speak for itself. I just learned to ignore greed and easy money that came along the way. I have always held on to my belief of making and creating good content. I just kept walking. The pressure is unbelievable and can break you. But as an artiste, it’s your job to be broken and to stand up again. And, that’s how great roles are played.

You have also tried your hand at Bollywood films with ‘Raazi’ and ‘Malang’ … How difficult is to crack Bollywood, notorious for being closed and clannish?

A: Bollywood is a hard shell to crack and I am so glad that actors from South India like Samantha [Ruth Prabhu] and Pratik Gandhi from Gujarati cinema are cracking that hard shell. From Marathi cinema, there’s Mrunal Thakur, Girish Kulkarni, Atul Kulkarni, Syed Aman, and me who are trying to crack it … And nothing is impossible.

Did you know?
Amruta isn’t a trained classical dancer …
“I have never learned any kind of dance form – classical or non-classical. Whatever I have learned is through the various gurus that I have met over the years – be it Ashish Patel, Deepali Vichare, or Ganesh Acharya. I have learned it all from them.”

Amruta put on 10 kilos for this role:
"It took me eight months to put on 10 kilos because my family and I are genetically blessed since we don't put on weight easily. But Lavni dancers are curvy, so I needed to look that part and I have no regrets."

Don’t miss it

‘Chandramukhi’ is out in the UAE cinemas now