Swarajyarakshak Sambhaji, the famous Zee Marathi series based on the life of Sambhaji Maharaj, has received rave reviews from all over Maharashtra. Dr Amol Kolhe and Prajakta Gaikwad who play the lead roles of Sambhaji Maharaj and his wife Maharani Yesubai talk about the beautiful mythological journey.
What was the thought behind the making of this television series?
Amol Kolhe: This is the story of a warrior, a king and a prince who wanted to fulfill the dreams of his great father. All of us know about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, but very few people know the history of Sambhaji Maharaj, fondly called as Shambhu raje. I personally wanted to put in front of the people the struggle and the ultimate sacrifice that was made by him. I believe that every youngster somewhere has a Sambhaji Maharaj in him.
Tell us about the selection of the lead characters.
AK: This was a dream come true. Back in 2008, when I was playing the role of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Raja Shiv Chattrapati, I had initially rejected the offer. I always wanted to play the role of Sambhaji Maharaj and had expressed my dream to the then director Nitin Chandrakant Desai. For the past nine years, I have played the character of Sambhaji Maharaj in the mega play Shivputra Shambhuraje which has completed over 450 shows and that made them realise how important and deeply rooted this character is in Maharashtra. It was during all that time that the idea of a television series was on my mind. Hence, I also took up the role as a producer of the series. Today, it has become a reality.
Prajakta Gaikwad: Getting a call for the role of Maharani Yesubai was the most exciting thing that happened in my life! Having played a part in Shivputra Shambhuraje alongside Amol sir, I knew about the thought behind the series. The makers of the serial were in search of an artist who was a combination of beauty, elegance and an unbiased study of the character of Yesubai. Many senior artists had undergone the screen tests for the role. So, when they asked me, I replied in the affirmative without second thoughts.
How did you prepare for these challenging roles?
AK: While preparing for the roles of Shivaji Maharaj and Sambhaji Maharaj, any artist has to prepare on three fronts — physical, intellectual and mental. The physical preparation in both the roles involves a grueling gym and exercise schedule to match the physical shape of the personalities. It also includes learning horse riding and the use of weapons. I have made it a point to read almost every word written about both the kings while portraying the respective roles. It has helped me play their roles in a better way. We have also worked on sketching the psychological graphs of the characters to understand their way of dealing with the situations in those times.
PG: The preparation for the role of Yesubai involved learning horse riding and the stick fights. She was not just a queen but was adept at use of weapons and was a master at understanding people. She was also a good horse rider and there are references of Sambhaji Maharaj and Yesubai going for horse rides. Hence, I had to learn horse riding. I was initially afraid of even getting close to a horse. However, with all the training, the fear is long gone. I learned all the necessary arts within a fortnight. The credit goes to my trainers Jitu Verma and Vinod Adhav sir.
Period films or series involve referring to literature as part of research. Whose works were referred for Swarajyarakshak Sambhaji?
AK: The team has sought references prominently from the works of Dr Jai Singh Pawar and his book Chatrapati Sambhaji: Ek Chikitsa, the thesis by Dr Kamal Gokahle and her books and the literature of V S Bendre for the serial.
Sambhaji Maharaj had a very strong bond with Maharani Yesubai. How did you bring alive this bond on screen?
AK: At the time of her marriage, the young Yesubai was groomed by none other than Jijabai. That grooming was the best teaching she had received. As for the couple, they two did not have a typical husband wife relationship. They were friends and with the growing age, their bond became stronger, more mature. Shivaji Maharaj had given the power of discretion to Yesubai after the death of Jijabai. We should not forget that in those days, it was a great move when women were not given the rights to have a final call in political issues. This itself shows the capability of Yesubai.
PG: For me, Yesubai herself is a great inspiration. At times, she is rock solid with her support for Sambhaji Maharaj. However, she has also been his friend and even played his mother when emotions got the best of him. That is a huge thing that I would like to take away from the character even as a human being.
The image of Sambhaji Maharaj is also a controversial one. How was that challenge dealt with?
AK: With the limited references available, it is a big task to portray a leader who is worshipped by many. Personally speaking, had he been so negative and corrupt as he has been portrayed, the Maratha forces would not be inspired to route the Mughals for the next 18 years after the execution of Sambhaji Maharaj. It is unfortunate that most of the writers found it easy to portray someone in bad light. However in doing so, they did not realise that they are only maligning the image of our own king.
PG: We have to be very careful about what we show, as when we portray those idols on screen, we become the brand ambassadors of our own history. So, initially one should double check if we are capable of bearing the pressures that come along with it. Even a simple step during the shoot has the power to shatter the image of the character.