Firebrand: Director Aruna Raje, Priyanka Chopra's mother Madhu speak about Netflix's first Marathi film
In Netflix’s first Marathi film, Firebrand, National award winning actress Usha Jadhav plays a divorce lawyer who challenges her male counterparts in the courtroom daily, while privately dealing with the trauma of being raped as a teenager
In Netflix’s first Marathi film, Firebrand, National award winning actress Usha Jadhav plays a divorce lawyer who challenges her male counterparts in the courtroom daily, while privately dealing with the trauma of being raped as a teenager. “Tujhe courtroom mein mardo ka shikaar karne mein bohot maza aata hai na? Tumhara woh feminist company zindabad,” a colleague in the film taunts her.
Directed by Aruna Raje (Shaque, Situm, Rihaee, Bhairavi, Tum – A Dangerous Obsession) — the first trained woman technician in the industry, and produced by Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures — the Marathi drama traces the life of a successful family lawyer who has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving a sexual assault. The film “revolves around trials and tribulations of contemporary modern-day relationships”. The cast includes Sachin Khedekar, Rajeshwari Sachdev and Girish Kulkarni. This is the first digital production for Chopra, whose production house has bankrolled several films including the Marathi-language Ventilator (2016) and Sikkimese movie Pahuna: The Little Visitors (2018). Firebrand is also Netflix’s first licensed original film in Marathi.
The writer, editor and award winning filmmaker Aruna Raje is back to directing after almost 15 years. “There were no dearth of subjects, I had plenty of them because I keep writing and thinking but the mood was not right and Bollywood films were getting more and more commercialised. I trained to become a leader, travelled to Australia and the US and became a life coach, a motivational speaker through which I could transform thousands of lives. I came across a lot of men and women who were sexually abused. People talk about the legal route, punishing the perpetrators, but no one talks about rehabilitation or closure for the survivors,” says Raje.
She continues, “In Firebrand, the protagonist plays a rape victim. You can’t take you trauma to work, you can’t show it on your face, you can’t wear it on your sleeve, you are running your home, you are working and yet you are carrying that baggage inside you. I was actually coaching women like that to come out and have closure. It is not one particular person’s story. There are all these hidden women and I made Firebrand for them.”
The subject appealed to Priyanka instantly, says her mother Madhu Chopra. “This was a bold subject and I know that Priyanka likes to do edgy and different work. I sent it to her and she green-lit it immediately. I hope we make history,” said Madhu Chopra, furthering, “The beauty of the film is that Aruna has made the female so powerful that she could get control of her anger and improve her life. She started serving people who were actually abused, she started looking after them and that is her softer side. The film needs to be understood for its depth. It is not a single layer narrative, there are many layers to it.”
All the four actors were completely in sync with their director. “She is a life-coach and she has herself gone through a lot in her own life. Her daughter died of cancer, she went through divorce... she has put all of that in the film through my character Sunanda. She has talked about equality, feminism, sex and not to be apologetic about the decisions you take. I was with Aruna from day one and she would tell me her thoughts and I would tell her to pen it down. We have been discussing the script for the last two years, so I know what she wants to say through the film,” said Usha Jadhav.
Rajeshwari Sachdev plays a former model engaged in a bitter divorce and child custody battle with her adman husband played by Sachin Khedekar, who she suspects of being a womaniser. “A very important part of a creative person is to empathise. Aruna has so much of empathy that when she tells a story she will never be one-sided.”
For Jadhav, it was a very tough character to portray, whereas for Girish Kulkarni, it was aspirational to play a caring husband. “I know Aruna tai closely and I knew what she wanted to say. I tried to understand the emotional level of the character. I am a director’s actor and I prepared my role with her. There were no discussions. She tells lot of stories when you spend time with her and then it just happens, one thing leads to another. If you have an experienced filmmaker who has seen life, not as a passive observer but as an active participant and has gone through devastating experiences herself then that can be shown in a convincing manner. My character brings in that harmony and calmness to the whole thing,” said Kulkarni.
Khedekar, too, was in love with his character especially for its sensitive nature. “I play an ad executive, a creative man, a good father, trying to understand his wife. When I met Aruna tai the first time we didn’t discuss the film, we just spoke for two hours, and I eventually felt that I was understanding her; like we say, ‘Evening well spent with an actor is a great briefing’. My character 'Anand' is an extremely pleasant man, like me,” concludes Khedekar with a hearty laugh.
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