Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar made his mark on Indian cinema with films like Parineeta, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, and Mardaani. Even before he made his directorial debut, the filmmaker was a prolific ad-filmmaker and created some iconic music videos. His wife, Panchali, had told PTI that the director passed away at the age of 67.
Actor Gajraj Rao, known for films like Badhaai Ho, Maja Ma, and Lootcase, talked to The Quint about Sarkar's legacy as a filmmaker, his passion for cinema, and more.
How did you come to be associated with Pradeep Sarkar?
Gajraj Rao: When I used to do theater in Delhi, sometime around 1995, someone introduced me to Pradeep Sarkar. He was an Art Director at an advertising firm then. At that time, clients and agencies believed that only Mumbai had art film directors and one should only work with them. Delhi-based talent didn’t get much space.
What can you tell us about Pradeep Sarkar as a filmmaker and professional?
Gajraj Rao: I’ve seen that zeal and energy in him; he knew he could make films. Then he left his agency and started his own production house Apocalypso Filmsworks. I’ve been associated with him since then. I realised in due course that he would never delegate – he wouldn’t sit back and wait for someone else to do something.
Every time there was a difficult situation, he was on the frontlines. Since there used to be budget constraints and it would be tough to find talent and technicians in Delhi, we would work in the city with great difficulty. Dada would always be at the frontlines and get work done – even if shooting was going on for 12-14 hours, he would be the most active.
He also directed several music videos. ‘Ab Ke Sawan Aise Barse’ by Shubha Mudgal was perhaps the most difficult project – it was supposed to be raining so that had to be created, there was an ensemble cast. With Euphoria, he created music videos for ‘Maeri’ and ‘Dhoom Pichak Dhoom’.
Coming to ad-films, I used to assist him and even acted several times. He would always pay writers, actors, and technicians well. We would often shoot for 3-4 days for music videos with little rest periods. I specifically remember the time when we were shooting for a Piya Basanti track.
I remember all the assistants would become exhausted but Pradeep da, the cinematographer, the actors Nauheed Cyrusi and Donovan Wodehouse would still be shooting.
He was like Napoleon Bonaparte in a way – I remember he had taken his horse and continued advancing even when his soldiers refused to do so, citing that the surface was too steep. That’s what dada was like – he wouldn’t give his assistants or technicians a chance to complain because he was always at the forefront.
These are some of my favourite memories with him. The one lesson I learned from him is this: for good leadership, it is important to be standing right at the front. He was an exceptional leader and artiste.
In some cases, music companies couldn’t afford a high budget. In most cases, dada would pay from his pocket because he had this passion to show the world what kind of filmmaker he is and can be. Furthermore, he’d make sure that the talent and technicians would get paid even if he wasn’t.
What role did he play in your entering the media industry?
Gajraj Rao: Once, he received a call from Vinod Chopra that they’re looking for a song director for Mission Kashmir. If I remember right, Sanjay Leela Bhansali had decided to move on to his own project so that spot was empty. So, Vinod Chopra had, in his office, said that he wanted to meet the directors of music videos like ‘Maeri’ and ‘Dhoom Pichak Dhoom’. He was surprised that all the three music videos he was talking about had been directed by the same person - Pradeep Sarkar.
It wasn’t even just me. He placed immense trust in his entire team and had a great eye for talent. For instance, consider Natarajan Subramanian, who is a big star in the South now. He worked as a cinematographer for dada in a few projects like ‘Maeri’ and ‘Dhoom Pichak Dhoom’. When he had just arrived from Chennai, he worked for a minor production house and would work in TV shows.
Dada scouted him from there because he saw his talent and wanted to work with him. Even Shantanu Moitra, who is a prolific music director now, used to work with him in the servicing department if I recall right. Sarkar motivated him to enter the industry too. There’s me, of course, and then there’s Badhaai Ho director Amit Sharma and several other actors, technicians, and set designers (whom he helped).
Designer Manoshi Nath, who has won several Filmfare awards, was a novice when dada asked him to start designing costumes for ad-films. I’m sure there are few others who supported new artistes the way dada did.
Dada would never work in isolation. He really trusted his team. He would always want to work with his assistants and his technicians. So, when Mumbai agencies started considering him for work, he shifted his base to Mumbai. I was conscious and skeptical about shifting to Mumbai but he motivated me to and I could say that that opened avenues for me.
Is there one memory with Sarkar that you will always carry with you?
Gajraj Rao: In the 6-7 years I’ve spent with dada (Sarkar), so much was communicated even without words. When we used to travel to Mumbai to shoot in the initial days, he would often buy things from Heera Panna. There was one person he’d buy new audio equipment or cables and gadgets from and he would even buy clothes from the market.
I remember a few instances when he was buying clothes for his kids and even bought clothes for my son. This is something I’ll always remember. This is something he would often do – his team would stay at the same hotel as him, when he rented a 1bhk in Andheri we would stay with him.
He even called me after he watched Badhaai Ho to appreciate my work and had told me that he was getting a role written for me in a new script. I’ll always regret not being able to work on that.
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