By Debamitra Mishra
Today marks the much-anticipated release of the Odia film ‘Mind Game,’ featuring the talented Bollywood actor Atul Kulkarni in the lead role. This gripping cinematic venture is directed by Rajesh Touchriver and produced by Siddharth Martha, with Manoj Mishra as the co-producer. We had the privilege of sitting down with Atul Kulkarni for an insightful conversation about his first foray into Odia cinema.
Debamitra: Can you tell us about your journey into ‘Mind Game’ and your initial thoughts on taking up this project?
Atul Kulkarni: Manoj Mishra (Co-Producer) is my batchmate from the National School of Drama. I would consider him as my first introduction to Odisha and the Odia language. If you have a great script, things become really easy for an actor. Manoj called and told me about ‘Mind Game.’ Although I have worked in various regional movies, this happens to be my first Odia film. I was excited for two reasons: one, it was for my friend Manoj, and secondly, it was my first Odia film. I immediately said ‘yes’ to act in ‘Mindgame.’
Debamitra: How was your experience working in Odisha, especially adapting to the local culture and language?
Atul Kulkarni: When I landed in Bhubaneswar, my actor instinct started to absorb and adapt to things around me. I was comfortably imitating the mannerisms, accent, etc. Almost the whole unit of the film was Odia or from Odisha. My co-actors and my friend Manoj were always there to help me.
Debamitra: Can you tell us more about your role in ‘Mind Game,’ where you play an IPS officer?
Atul Kulkarni: I would say that a police officer is never just a character; it’s the profession of that character. I have played police officer characters before, but for this film, I played the character- ‘Arun Agnihotri’, an IPS officer. The script was so well researched and complete that it had all the information I needed to prepare for the role and to pull it off.
Debamitra: You’ve worked in various languages. How do you prepare for roles in languages that you may not be fluent in?
Atul Kulkarni: After having worked in 7-8 languages regularly, I have developed a flavor for it. So, while preparing for a role in a new language, I write the dialogues in Devanagari and get them by heart. As we were shooting in two languages – Telugu and Odia, Odia was spoken around me all the time. There was an assistant dedicated to me to teach me the accent whenever I practiced dialogues. During the dubbing part, Manoj was constantly beside me to guide me throughout.
Debamitra: What are your thoughts on storytelling in cinema, and how does ‘Mind Game’ fit into that narrative?
Atul Kulkarni: Every film is inspired by real life. There cannot be art without being inspired by life. Through cinema, you may tell any story you like, but it’s all about emotions—love, laughter, fear, jealousy—it’s all there in cinema. It’s important to craft a story and make a good script out of it, on which the movie’s output relies. I think ‘Mind Game’ is a wonderful script.
Debamitra: Can you share a memorable experience from your time shooting ‘Mind Game’ in Odisha?
Atul Kulkarni: My co-actor Anu Choudhary is a wonderful human being and a fabulous actress. Since I was new to everything in Odisha, Anu helped me a lot to understand the state and its culture. A good memory I would mention is I bought lots of sarees and other textiles for my family from a store where Anu took me. We shot this film long back, but the friendship we have is refreshing and priceless.
Debamitra: Lastly, what are your thoughts on the current state of Odia cinema, and what can the audience expect from ‘Mind Game’?
Atul Kulkarni: I am so proud of how Odia cinema is doing presently. Every film industry undergoes a renaissance, and I would consider that the perfect way to explain how well Odia cinema is doing now with movies like ‘Daman’ and ‘Pushkara.’ I feel fortunate that our film ‘Mind Game’ is releasing in this era. I am very hopeful that people here will give a positive response to this film.
Debamitra: It’s wonderful to hear your thoughts on Odisha and ‘Mind Game.’ Also, do share your thoughts on Odia cuisine.
Atul Kulkarni: I was awestruck by the beauty of Bhubaneswar. I have rarely seen any capital city this green and beautiful. And I was enjoying Odia Cuisine a lot, especially the fish dishes.
As ‘Mind Game’ hits the theaters today, it’s evident that Atul Kulkarni’s dedication and passion for his craft shine through in the character – IPS Arun Agnihotri. We wish him and the entire team the best of luck, and we’re excited to see Odia cinema reaching new heights.