Photographer (for Prabhavalkar): Rana Chakraborty
Dilip Prabhavalkar, winner of two national awards for best supporting actor, has come into national limelight recently for his loveable portrayal of the Mahatma in Lagey Raho Munnabhai. Yet his career spans over 30 years and comprises over 30 prestigious awards for his contribution to theatre, film and literature. This artist wasn’t too tied to crazy Bollywood schedules to give us an interview. But right from the time he chucked up his job in a pharmaceutical company and video production unit to devote his all to the arts, he has made his own routine, and sticks to it.
• What do awards mean to you?
In the beginning they used to thrill me, but I’ve become objective over time. These national awards are an exception. Besides the associated prestige, what makes them special is that I received one for playing the father of the nation—which isn’t a role to tamper with. I was skeptical at first about how Gandhi’s character set in today’s times with ‘Bollywood’s favourite bhai’ would be received by audiences, but Raju Hirani’s vision came through… and the award crowns that victory.
• Some have accused the character of Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai of being an oversimplification of the Mahatma.
That’s because Gandhi was in Munnabhai’s mind. Munnabhai’s problems were simple, and so he dealt with them simply. The struggles of Gandhi’s life were much larger. Also, this simplification made many young people relate to the film. Their problems are also simple.
• You became a household face in Maharashtra with your portrayal of Chimanrao in the Marathi TV serial of the same name 30 years ago, but you were unknown nationally till Lage Raho… despite having acted in some prominent Bollywood releases.
It’s funny. People often ask me why I haven’t acted in mainstream Hindi films before. When I tell them of characters I’ve played in a Chupke Chupke or an Encounter: The Killing, they remember the characters vividly, but can’t place me as the actor playing them. Then there are films like Beqabu, where I played nine characters. I love saying that Sanjeev Kumar played nine characters and it was called Naya Din Nayee Raat. When I did the same it should have been called ‘Gaya Din Gayee Baat’. The film vanished without a trace.
• Are you saying that stereotyping is necessary to root an actor in audience memory?
I love my work too much to have given serious thought to this. I try to portray my characters as honestly as possible. I did not want to become a star. I’m happy where I am.
• You’ve been an actor and writer, but you’re best described as a humourist. What’s the secret of making so many laugh?
Yes, humour underlines most of my writing and acting. It ranges from satire to slapstick. The secret is to see humour in what’s happening around you. How? It’s like having an ear for music, you either do or don’t. Once you see these things, they get incorporated into your work automatically. I can’t explain how I gave the middle class family members in Shriyut Gangadhar Tipre a Wodehousean hue, or decided to flex my non-existent muscles to tease a hefty police official as Punappa in Encounter… . But I can say my life is overflowing with a sense of humour and comic timing. After seeing Shriyut… for instance, Hrishikesh Mukherjee called me. I thought someone was playing a prank on me, and refused to believe he was Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
• If Subhash Nagre aka Sarkar’s character in Sarkar Raj reminded one of Balasaheb Thackeray, Rao Saab—the character played by you—was Sarkar’s ‘guru’. Is there a real political person your character was referring to?
No… I thought he might seem a bit like Anna Hazare, but in appearance only. I don’t think Sarkar was like Balasaheb either. Or that Vishnu Nagre or Sanjay Somji was like Raj Thackeray. I’ve read these views but don’t agree with them.
• You’ve just seen Sarkar Raj. What did you think of the film?
I liked it. It was a different kind of theme—the development politics angle and everything. I liked all the three Bachchans, and Ramu’s style of direction. Of course the surprises and twists didn’t apply to me as an audience, because I knew them already.
• What about Shevri, the other film you won a national award for, where you played a middle class clerk?
I haven’t seen that movie either (laughs). I just didn’t have time to.
• Your writings and your portrayals involve umpteen characters from middle class Maharashtra. What best characterizes this class according to you?
I can’t point out any unique characteristic. I’ve portrayed many characters from other classes too. But yes, I write from what I see in my surroundings. I haven’t traveled as much as… say Tendulkar (Vijay Tendulkar)… to gather a host of experiences. So my writings have been centered in the Maharashtrian middle class mostly.
• Chimanrao, for instance, is a character from that milieu. What made you re-launch that character with your play Hasva Phasvi?
Many reasons. One is that I was playing many characters in the play, and wanted at least one I knew well. The audiences loved that character too, and would find an old connection in a new play. Also, I felt the character, created by C V Joshi, could be explored beyond, by placing his characteristic style in a different set of situations. Finally, I wanted to pay a tribute to the character that made me famous.
• Your portrayal of the Pandit in the Marathi film Valu has also been applauded.
The credit for that goes to Umesh Kulkarni, the director. He etched out the character, and I only had a few improvisations to make. In a medium like film an actor is always a ‘director’s actor’. He always knows only a few pieces of the jigsaw, not the whole picture.
• Current socio-political issues often find their way into your satiric columns, articles and books…
I’m not interested in joining politics. So this is the only way to express my frustration. Humour is the only solution, in the absence of a real solution, for a helpless middle class citizen.
• But humour sometimes trivializes real issues. And encourages escapism.
Yes. That is a thin line which an artist should be aware of. In Chaukat Raja, I played a mentally retarded boy. In Ratra Aarambh, I portrayed a schizophrenic. I saw no humour in these roles. In P L Deshpande’s adaptation of The Last Appointment too there were places where I could have injected humour, but didn’t. So comic relief was provided by the situation being humorous rather than the character. The character was that of the common man—whose pathetic plight is too much like most of us, to be humorous.
• What about the future of Marathi theatre – experimental and professional? Any interesting trends?
Yes. (laughs) That the line dividing the two is fast disappearing.
• Finally, why have you shifted from Mumbai to Pune and what plans for the future?
I stopped Hasva Phasvi, despite its popularity, because the play had reached a saturation point of performance for me—when there was nothing more to develop in the characters. When I worked in a pharmaceutical company long ago, we were obsessed with ascertaining the shelf
life of each product. I have to find new products if the shelf life of the old ones have expired. For this, I’m re-charging my batteries in Pune: listening to classical music, watching world cinema… meeting interesting people. In Bombay I keep getting some work or the other. Also, besides acting, I want to write. I keep getting demands for extending the Bokya Saatbande series of children’s literature. I’ve already written five parts, but I’ll write more. I want to write besides that too, but the format and content is as of yet undecided.
1968: Prabhavalkar’s first major performance in Lobh Nasava Hi Vinati, a play written by Vijay Tendulkar.
1977-79: The Chimanrao TV series took Prabhavalkar to every Maharashtrian household, and kept him there.
1991: Prabhavalkar, a postgraduate in Biophysics and diploma holder from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, leaves behind his other career to concentrate on acting, and writing.
1968 onwards: Plays which won Prabhavalkar acclaim and awards include Prem Kahani, Aranyak, Vasuchi Sasu, Bhool Chook Dyavi Ghyavi (written by him), Jawai Maza Bhala, Sandhyachhaya, Kalam 302, Ghar Tighancha Hava, Ek Zunj Varyashi and Natigoti. Topping this list is Hasva Phasvi, also written by him, where he plays six characters and which has had over 700 runs, before he shut it down.
His acclaimed and awarded films include Chaukat Raja, Katha Doan Ganpathraonchi, Sarkarnama, Ratra Aarambh, and recently – Valu, Shevri, Encounter – The Killing and Lage Raho Munnabhai.
Three of his books – Googly, Hasgat and Kagdi Baan won literary awards. His books often comprise a compilation of his columns and articles which, aside from arousing laughter, have addressed contemporary socio-political issues. His book Anudini (also a compilation of a column he penned) was adapted into the highly popular TV series Shriyut Gangadhar Tipre, which he acted in too.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/ub6q