Producer-production designer Nitin Chandrakant Desai’s directorial debut, Ajintha, that opens this Friday, is based on the true story of British officer-painter Major Robert Gill and a Maharashtrian tribal girl called Paro (played Sonalee Kulkarni). That explains why the film’s dialogue is in three languages —English, Marathi and Hindi. The movie, which unfolds between 1824 and 1856, has been inspired by Padma Shri ND Mahanor’s poetry.
Sonalee, who shot to fame with the Marathi film Natarang in 2010, admits that playing a girl from another era was difficult. “Mahanorji, who’s been researching the subject for 30 years and Nitinji, for three years, helped me understand the paintings and philosophy of Ajanta,” she says.
Her role as the feisty Paro, who collects firewood in the jungle to support herself, made use of not just Sonalee’s bharatnatyam training, but also involved doing some stunts. “For a sequence, I had to dive 60 feet through a waterfall. I was terrified, since I have never attempted bungee jumping or dived into a pool before,” she recalls.
For another scene, she had to climb down 200 feet from the top of a cliff and enter a cave. Not only was there a beehive inside the cave, she was also covered in ropes and balancing a bamboo. “Even though action director Ravi Dewan had taken all precautions, five tribal boys would guide me on location. First, the stick slipped and then I thought the ladder had given way and I screamed. But fortunately, the retake was okayed,” says Sonalee.