O kay, so Gauri, featuring him as a leading man, may have tanked. But he's back in the forefront with the success of the Marathi film Valu, in which he plays the lead.
"I didn't expect Valu would click in such a big way. I was impressed by the script, as soon
as I was approached though," the actor states, glowing with success.
He points out that the boxoffice collections of Valu have sustained even after four weeks - unlike the case of the other recent Marathi hit Sade Maade Teen.
"Though I have acted in Marathi films before, this is my first ever super hit in the language."
Kulkarni had seen director Umesh Kulkarni's Pune Film Institute diploma film Girni. For the record, so far Kulkarni has acted in six Marathi films.
This year, he will be seen in four Hindi films: N Chandra's Yeh Mera India, Rakeysh Mehra's Dilli 6, Sagar Bekllari's Kachchi Limboo and Farouq Kabeer's Allah Ke Bandhe.
The actor says that Yeh Mera India, formerly titled Breaking News, is a collage of seven stories, structurally somewhat on the lines of Crash.
He portrays Raja Shetty, a disillusioned Naxalite who joins the underworld and later ends up looking at the world positively.
His co-stars in the film include Sarika, Anupam Kher, Rajpal Yadav, Parveen Dabas, Seema Biswas and Perizaad Zorabian.
In Dilli 6, Atul plays the role of Gobar. "Like Rang De Basanti, Dilli 6 also is a character-driven film. I'm glad that Rakeysh has now given a 180-degree contrast to my Rang De Basanti character."
In Kachchi Limboo, he plays the architect husband of Sarika who portrays a theatre actress. Says Kulkarni. "A children's film has a mature approach very rarely. It is the story of a 13-year-old teenager who has a complex relationship with his stepfather."
Kulkarni, who once made news with his stage performances, is satisfied with his growth as a film actor. "If I had tasted success at the age of 20, may be I wouldn't have been able to handle it.
"I entered the film industry with Hey Raam when I was 36. I had experienced life sufficiently by then. No actor can excel if he doesn't tap from the richest source he has within him - his agonies and his ecstasies."