Madhura Welankar Satam is a leading Marathi actress and a four-time State Award winner. She hails from a family of respected film dignitaries which include her producer father Mr. Pradeep Velankar and her father-in-law who has been a part of one of the longest-running and popular TV shows CID which was aired on Sony TV. She has also appeared in the Hindi film, Jajantaram Mamantaram. She is now venturing with a Hindi TV Show, Crime Next Door, which will premiere on Disney+ Hotstar. It is a multi-ensemble series where she is cast opposite her former co-star Girish Kulkarni.
Crime Next Door is an Indian mini web series. The series stars Yashpal Sharma, Mohan Kapur, Rajendra Gupta, and Anupriya Goenka. The series has been made under the banner of Neela Film Productions. In this gripping crime thriller, a police officer solves some of the most heinous and toughest murder cases of his entire career.
Madhur spoke to Bollywood Hungama for an exclusive interview to discuss foraying to digital platforms and more.
How was your experience shooting in the middle of a pandemic?
Honestly, we were very fortunate to have started in October after the situation in the country settled and finished before it got worse again. After March (the initial nationwide lockdown), it was the first time I was at the airport. Everyone was adapting to the new normal of wearing masks, PPE kits, and all the precautions were taken. Even while we were shooting in Jaipur, there were night shoots, we were always wearing masks, and the location was getting sanitized every now and then. There weren’t a lot of people on set at all times except when we were shooting for a part sequence, still everyone was wearing their masks and all their safety precautions were being taken care of. Sometimes, even I was getting annoyed with the mask and makeup and hair but it’s for your own good. And honestly, I was willing to do anything and everything as long as I get to work. I am workaholic and we were all confined to our houses since March, I enjoyed the change and I was working again- I was thrilled. And at that time- we all believed that the situation would get better so we were all positive!
You have created a niche for yourself working in Marathi films, how was the shift from theatre and movies to shooting for an OTT platform?
I hail from a film family and I started acting when I was in Jr. Kg. I never planned on being an actor, honestly. I first started with theatre, and then TV series and I worked in my first film when I entered college Jajantaram Mamantaram. I wanted to do whatever came my way, I wanted to branch out, do new things, I wanted to surprise myself. But when I started out, Social Media wasn’t such a big deal. All the films were mainly hero-heroine-centric films, now there are films for everyone. It is not just about the hero or the heroine, it’s about everyone and age has no bar! Again, I feel like when you do movies there is a certain standard that we live up to and a few subjects that films get made on but with OTT there are no set limitations. And if as an artist you get to experience that, it is very fulfilling and it teaches you a lot. Nothing makes an artist happier than creating and doing new things.
What is your happy place when it comes to acting; you have ventured out and done theatre, movies, and now a digital series? What gives you the most pleasure?
This question gets asked so frequently and I can never pick one. But to me theatre is like home, I did it even before I aspired to become an actor. My grandmother would write a story, my Mom would direct it and I would act. But when I started out I started with theatre and films together. And I believe both the mediums have their own charm and I love being a part of both. But I very strongly believe that theatre teaches you the basics to become an actor. There is a process that is followed by each artist to dwell into mannerisms of the character and own it when you do theatre. Theatre is live, it’s raw and there are no retakes and cuts. Since it is live in front of the audience, you immediately get feedback. And that is what helps you in movies because movies don’t get shot in a linear fashion but the theatre basics help you understand the character better. But they both have their charm; I can never pick one, socially between films and theatre. There is always so much to learn, explore and give back and I love being on screen just as much as I love being on stage. OTT gives you an abundance of creative freedom and you can portray things the way you want- it’s a challenge in itself and I love taking challenges and exploring and learning something new.
How was it working with an ensemble cast for Crime Next Door?
Crime Next Door is a compilation of several films and for my bit- I have worked with Ravi Shah and Girish Kulkarni. As for Girish, we’ve been friends for quite some time and we did theatre together but we were facing the camera for the very first time (together). It was a lot of fun, we were both Maharashtrians, we spoke in Marathi on sets. And the funny part- we are really good friends but in the movie- we are always fighting (laughs). And in between takes- we were always talking about movies and theatre. I was working with Ravi Shah for the very first time and I recall a funny incident wherein he was supposed to stand up and the scene would cut. But somehow, he didn't end up standing and the camera kept rolling, we were all waiting for him to stand up and he misunderstood the situation. And we were all just laughing and we clicked as co-actors. He also knew my father-in-law very well, he has also done theatre, and we had a few common interests. Since it was a murder mystery the mood would be quite solemn and Ravi would say a few things and everyone would burst out laughing. It was a lot of fun!
How fun it is to work in multiple industries and go back and forth between languages?
I have worked primarily in Marathi films and series. As for Hindi, I have done Jajantaram Mamantaram, another film that didn’t end up releasing with Yashpal Sharma, and another series, that’s all. I am not very fluent in English and Hindi and I was very conscious about my accent. This happens with several Marathi actors, they get very conscious about their accent. And so many actors feel this way, the fear and insecurity then restrict you and you don’t end up overcoming the fear. I staunchly believe that whenever you take up a new role, you have to fit into the character’s personality, you learn the way they behave, you adapt their mannerism, you learn new things then why not work on your language, it’s part and parcel. You don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of the language but just for the character, we can always learn. Our director Deepankar is from Jaipur and he is very fluent in Hindi. I asked him to help me get the dialect right. And for Hindi, we have grown up watching Hindi films, talking in Hindi but it’s typical Mumbai Hindi but for a character, it’s always important to get everything correct and be organic. As an actor, you can know how to emote with your eyes and showcase the change in your body language, language you can learn on the way.
You come from a family of actors and leading film and TV dignitaries, did you feel pressure to live up to your father’s legacy or fill in his shoes?
I felt a lot of pressure when I started out and I was acting with my dad in the serial. People always saw him as a very respected actor and when I began I was worried that in case I can't deliver, I wouldn’t want people to look at my father differently or question him. My Mom used to conduct workshops and she used to teach in my school and she was really strict. Fortunately, my first serial was a hit and people started looking at me as a good artist but the pressure was always there- because I wanted to consistently prove myself and I didn’t want anyone to feel like I am here because of my father. And after a few years, I gained recognition and people didn’t know me as Pradeep Velankar’s daughter and that was a big thing for me. But my parents never put any pressure on me, they always asked me to do whatever makes me happy and to do that with full dedication. Even after I got married, my courtship was for 8 years and I had worked with my father-in-law before. And he is a legend; I had already proven myself as an actor. He has never intervened with any decision; he has always respected my individuality, just like my father. My family was very supportive, even after a child- everyone was very supportive. Before I started work in Hindi, he asked me to continue working with conviction and it will be okay. To be honest, I am putting this pressure on myself and my family is so supportive. So, I showed more faith in my abilities and kept working. But it is always good to have them around, their advice really matters. But now the tables have turned they (father and father in law) often come and ask us how to go about with things.
Mr. Shivaji Satam, your father-in-law, has been a part of the films and one of the most popular and longest-running TV Show CID, did he give you any special advice before you started working for Crime Next Door?
Not really! He just asked me to be myself and not worry about the language barrier. He asked me to just be convincing as an actor and not take unnecessary pressure. But I remember, 5 months into my marriage, I was working on a film with him that my husband was directing; we were shooting for a scene where I had to yell at him and back answer him, zinc, he played the role of my father in the film and I was a bratty daughter. I was a little intimidated and he sensed it, he is not a very expressive person that way but he sensed my discomfort and put a hand on my shoulder and asked me to just go for it which ultimately eased me out and I gave the shot.
The pandemic has brought the film and acting industry to a grinding stop. How does it feel as an entertainer to keep yourself motivated amid these grim times?
I can’t stay still; I like to keep doing things and keep myself busy. I wrote my book and it got published in 2019. I started a show called Madhurav, it was a compilation of 40 episodes and focuses on people’s writing where people can express themselves through writing. Several people wrote to me and told me that they were depressed and writing really helped them come out of it. For any writer, the biggest dream is to get their work published and I published their work in a compiled book. I was also conferred with the COVID Yoddha award by the Governor of Maharashtra for infusing positivity in the people through the episodes and books during the tough times. That was a very enriching experience for me. We did everything for free and we were all so attached to the show but I stopped it because the exclusivity should be maintained. My seven-year-old son was also looking forward to it and he kept asking me about the show when we stopped. The show impacted my family so closely and everyone was so involved, it was wonderful. Then in September, I started working on this show. We also started working on our home production with my husband where we have both acted and we were working on it in October, we shot in December and January and by February we were done. The film is now in the works and is getting edited and we will work on the rest after the lockdown. I believe when you love something, you should never stop doing it. I am also doing my post-graduation now, after 18 years. I am studying again; I can never sit at home and never do anything. My friends often tell me that I can never take a break and I agree. People should keep doing what they like, even if they are at home they can make the most of their time. There are days when we feel low, but it is tough for everyone. No one can help you, you have to face it, explore, learn new things, and create new things and it satisfies you.
The audience’s focus is now shifting to OTT platforms and TV Series, what are your views on that?
Honestly, that was the only form of entertainment available during the pandemic and it kept them hooked. It is basically like adopting the new normal. The OTT medium is flourishing and there are no limitations, we can keep exploring and creating new things. Television should evolve, it has its limitations because it caters to everyone, and OTT viewers' discretion is a major factor and people can watch whatever they like. But again, sometimes things that are shown don’t show reality. Basically, they stereotyped women even now and that shouldn’t be done. Women have come a long way and they should be shown in a better light. Things should be portrayed more realistically and content-wise they should grow, so people can see the actuality of life. It is important to show characters as humans and portray them in a more authentic way. There are serials that are doing good work and that should increase.
Any recent movie or OTT series you watched that had you completely hooked and blew your mind?
I loved Paatal Lok. When it was released, I wasn’t very sure because the title was so negative but after I watched it, I absolutely loved it. The lead actress is such a wonderful artist. I also finished The Queen Season 4. I love the show because they are making a show on someone who is still alive and here, when she portrays any character living or dead, everyone gets very hurt- it gets difficult and things can’t be shown. In the show- they have showcased the good and the bad and all of it has been portrayed and we can really learn from it.
Hailing from a film family, are all the dinner table conversations about movies?
We always say that when we are together, it is like a festival. I remember when my father-in-law was in CID, he used to shoot at a stretch of 20-25 days. Either him, my husband, or me, one of us was always working. During the pandemic, we have heard so many stories from their past (father and father in law). It is so beautiful because they literally go back to those days and they are very possessive about these stories. They almost have a childlike excitement and it’s very heartwarming to see. Again, being from the same field these stories are really helpful. Stories about how they dealt with people, tackled situations, their good, and bad experiences and it is great learning. My families from both sides are respected for the way they are, they are just themselves and they don't put on any false mask. It is something to look up to; it really helps as an artist. They always say - Be Yourself and Focus on your Work and everything will follow. And in small, small ways we use their advice and we just have to use their advice as a keepsake and its precious.
Since it's a thriller, what can you tell us about the series without giving too much away?
It is a thriller and starts with husband-wife complications but there is a party and there is an accident after the party and then there are a series of incidents, thereafter. It is an extremely unpredictable end and what is really thrilling is- it is a real story. It is very unpredictable and it is a tale of misunderstandings and misconceptions and it all unfolds with uncertainty. We were shooting in Rajasthan and it is a story from Rajasthan, some unit members also knew about the couple from the real story. We just wanted to make sure we stay true to the character and I would like to specify that it is based on a true story. The action sequences, makeup was on point. When I posted a picture of Girish and Me with a scar on my head, everyone was asking me what happened and it was so realistic. The journey was so precise and apt, it was absolutely great!
You have worked in the film industry for 24 years, that’s a long time: Any takeaways?
I started acting in Jr. Kg and I started working when I was in 10th grade. My dad always says, there will always be changes, ups and downs, you just have to perform. You must know the positives and negatives, the highs and lows but you just have to be extremely passionate and convincing as an actor. My mom always says that you shouldn’t stop learning, there will always be something to learn. You have to keep your ears and eyes open. You have to unlearn and learn- it is a difficult process. Take a break, unlearn things and then get back to work. You have to be open to change and keep learning like a student; there will be new challenges and new things to learn. Even now, Mr. Bachchan says that every time I take up a project, I am nervous. The anxiety should be there, it keeps you going!
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