Filmmaker Revathy and actors Kajol and Vishal Jethwa talk about Salaam Venky and a motherhood

Directed by Revathy Asha Kelunni, the film sees Kajol playing the mother of K. Venkatesh, a young chess player affected by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), that took away his life in December 2004.
A still from the shoot
A still from the shoot

There's nothing as unconditional as a mother's love, no matter which species you belong to. Though each mother has her own unique way of rearing her child, love remains the main driving force behind all their actions. Salaam Venky too talks about and celebrates the mother-child relationship. Directed by actor-filmmaker Revathy Asha Kelunni, the film is based on the book The Last Hurrah by Srikanth Murthy and sees Kajol playing Sujata, mother of K. Venkatesh, a young chess player affected by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), that took away Venkatesh's life in December 2004 at the age of 25. The film vividly recreates the saga of this Hyderabad-based mother who supported her son's legal fight for euthanasia so that he could donate his organs.

Ahead of the film's release, we had a chat with Revathy, Kajol and Vishal Jethwa about the same. 

Excerpts from  the chat:

What inspired you to make Salaam Venky?

Revathy: Venkatesh and Sujata's is a beautiful story of living life to the fullest. He has a short life but he lived it well and that is what inspired me to make this film.

I remember attending a conference on HIV and arts organised by David Gere in 2003 in Kolkata, which inspired me to make Phir Milenge which talks about HIV-Aids. Films are a powerful communicative medium and it’s important for me to say something through them which will change at least one person’s perspective. Salaam Venky is one such film.

Kajol: It was a great opportunity for me to play a real-life character and it was challenging since you have to justify the character. The biggest test is when Sujata watches the film and gives us passing marks.

Vishal, Kajol and Revathy in Kolkata
Vishal, Kajol and Revathy in Kolkata

Kajol, you initially said no to the film?

Yes, I don’t do films where something is happening to my child, especially after I’ve become a mother. So, I refused to do this too but Revathy insisted that I hear the script once. When I heard it, I recollected how sensitively she made the film Phir Milenge starring Shilpa Shetty and Salman Khan. I remember telling myself that if I ever got a chance to work with her I definitely would and cut to today when I heard the script I knew if I didn’t do this I will regret it later.

Revathy: She said no to the idea, not the script. Sameer Arora wrote the screenplay and when he reads it he has this habit of crying since he feels so connected. I requested him not to cry while reading it out to Kajol since I wanted to see her reaction. Venky’s life is designed to be short and the film shows how his mother helped him lead it happily.

Vishal How did you prepare for the role?

I didn’t know about the disease at all and Revathy shared a 90-minute video of a DMD patient’s journey so that I could study how he sits, and stands and what kind of body language he has. Also, having a co-star like Kajol made it easier for me to portray the character. I was very nervous and scared but I loved working with Kajol and hope to work with her again.

Kajol: Oh, but it never showed on your face that you were scared and nervous (laughs)

Vishal: Maybe because I’m a great actor (laughs). But I was never scared during the shoot since she was Sujata and I was Venky there. How can a son get intimidated by his mom?

Revathy, how was it to direct Kajol?

It felt so surreal, like a dream.

Kajol: Revathy is a fabulous director and she made everything so very easy for us that at no point in the film did Vishal and I feel we had to make an effort. Revathy’s strength lies in her ability to allow us to do what we want and be confident that we will do something fabulous.


Talking about euthanasia is also a big part of the film…

Revathy: Yes, because Venkatesh too in real life asked for euthanasia because he knew he would die and he wanted to donate his organs. How he handled the entire situation is a part of the story.

In 2004 Venkatesh’s death started a conversation and it went on with Aruna Shaunbag and certain other cases going up to Supreme Court. In 2018 the apex court talked about the living will where one can state that in case we need to be put on life-saving devices, we can have a choice not to opt for the same.

Kajol, with each year your choice of films is getting better, what are the parameters for saying yes to a film?

Kajol: You may say my taste is getting better (laughs). My parameters will always be the same – I go through scripts and even if the character is fantastic and the director is amazing, I need to like the script first. I also said no to Saalam Venky because I couldn’t go through the pain Sujata has gone through. But after listening to the script I felt compelled as an artiste to say yes.

How did it feel playing Sujata? How much of the mother in you came out?

I don’t think you can divorce yourself from that situation, if you are a mother, a woman, or a parent, you can’t say I will handle that as an actor. You have to be there, you are playing a living character -- the kind of steely strength and bravery and love for the boy Sujata has, the film tries to show that all. The film shows people what a mom really is and that’s really the truth because I didn’t know how much my mother loved me till I had my own kids. When my kids turned about 3 months old, I called up my mother and I wept over the phone. I never knew how much she loved me till I had to do everything that she did for me --- staying up with me and holding me all night, walking me up and down the room. I felt exhausted as a parent in 3 months and I don't know how I survived and if I have survived and grown up with such a fabulous upbringing it’s because of my mother. That’s what Revathy has done with Salaam Venky too besides showcasing the social angle beautifully.

Vishal Jethwa
Vishal Jethwa

What’s your biggest takeaway from the film?

Kajol: I will not let my fear for my children stop them from doing whatever they want to pursue or do in life. Today, if they want to jump from the third step, I would say, ‘Jump I’m here to catch you’.

Revathy: For the past 15 years, I have lived with this story. When Sujata tells me that she has not done anything extraordinary, that she has just been a mother and it was her duty to take care of her son whom she brought to the world, these are such simple yet strong words with which none can contend. That’s what we exactly showed in our film.

Your upcoming projects:

Kajol: I’ll tell you mine while these two make up their minds (laughs). I have The Good Wife coming and I am also doing a film for Dharma productions.

Revathy: I just shot in Kolkata for a series called Tooth Pari and I’m there in Tiger too.

Vishal: I’m shooting for three films and they are from different genres.

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