Perhaps the first thing you notice about Girish Kulkarni is that he laughs readily when he talks. But even in that easy banter, he presents articulate answers. And this dichotomy is evident in his recent turn as the inadvertently funny cop in film-maker Anurag Kashyap's latest thriller, Ugly.
In spite of having two National Awards to his name, and lead roles in Marathi films such as Deool (2011), Vihir (2009) and Gabhricha Paus (2009), Girish is not known to many outside regional cinema. The writer-actor doesn't seem to be in a hurry to change that. "I'm not that ambitious about Bollywood. If the script is right, I'd be very willing, but I want to preserve my right to say 'no'. I'm afraid I might get typecast," he says.
Girish Kulkarni has written the screenplay for films like Deool (2011), Vihir (2009) and Valu (2008). He credits his writing background to having a deep understanding of filmmaking. "I'm not very keen on publicity, and I think that's the case because I'm a writer as well. When you're creating your own projects, and building them brick by brick, you look at your craft differently. As an actor, you have a limited role, but there's so much more to writing and directing," he says.
However, being limited to acting didn't ruin his maiden Bollywood experience. Talking about his role, Girish says that Anurag Kashyap hadn't shared the entire script with his cast as he didn't want them to be biased; the brief given to him was to "act like a real cop searching for a girl". This sort of freedom suited Girish just fine, as he drew on his theatre training to play the character of Inspector Jadhav. "On the first day of shooting, I was the first actor to reach the sets for an early-morning schedule. When I got there, the team was assembling the set," says Girish, adding, "The first scene I shot was the one where I was interrogating Rahul Bhat's and Vineet Kumar Singh's characters. Anurag had told me to take charge, and all we had was a rough script; we were improvising a lot. We kept on talking, waiting for Anurag to say 'cut', but he just wouldn't say it. We got to a point where we were unsure about what's going on. The first take was 17 minutes long, but it was good fun."
Bollywood, too, seems to have taken notice of his talent. At the Cannes Film Festival 2013, where the film was screened, Girish bumped into filmmaker Zoya Akhtar, who praised his performance. "People met me in Cannes as well as in Mumbai and said, 'Where did you come from?' All I said was, 'I've been around for a while'," he says, with a laugh. He's also received appreciation from film-maker Dibakar Banerjee. But the one phone call he remembers most fondly came from one of his favourite actors. "I was getting a call from an unknown number for three days, so I called back. The voice at the other end said 'Sir, hum toh aapke fan ho gaye. Aapne sab ki chutti kar di' (I've become a fan of yours. You've done a good job). It was Piyush Mishra calling. It was a pleasant surprise as I am a big fan of his work. And these are exactly the kind of Bollywood names I want to work with," he says.
Currently, Girish is happy receiving congratulatory messages and calls. Meanwhile, work on his upcoming films is underway. His next is the Marathi movie, titled Highway, starring Huma Qureshi and Tisca Chopra, which he has written, acted in, and co-produced. "I'm also working on a comedy film. I will act in it and it will also mark my directorial debut," he says.