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ST Correspondent
Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Actor Dilip Prabhavalkar shared interesting nuggets of information about his life and work at the ongoing PIFF where he was felicitated

An actor leads a many layered life and unpeeling those, revealing themselves in the public eye is not easy for any actor. Trust Dilip Prabhavalkar to do that, gently, without being overbearing. The senior artist was conversing with Dr Jabbar Patel, chairman and director of Pune International Film Festival (PIFF). Prabhavalkar was felicitated by 17th PIFF for his ‘Outstanding Contribution to Indian Cinema’. 

Known for his impeccable comic timing, as well as intense performances in films like Chaukat Raja, Ratra Arambha and Ek Hota Vidushak, it came as a surprise revelation to many when Prabhavalkar called himself ‘an accidental actor’. “I was doing research in molecular biology and my ultimate goal was to work in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. I thought of taking acting seriously as upjeevika (livelihood) when my show Haswa Faswi (where he impersonated many characters) was a big hit. I had done 750 shows. By then, I was doing well in theatre, television (eponymous series Chimanrao Gundyabhau) and had also written a few books, but still it was a gamble to become a professional actor. I wasn’t young then,” recalls Prabhavalkar. 

However, at heart, he still remains a researcher and it’s evident when the actor signs on a film. As Patel pointed out, “It was said of Dilip, he nakla chhan kartat (he mimics really well) - a reference to his Haswa Faswi characterisation. But Dilip is a well-read man. He has watched many movies. I will say that he is also a very insecure actor; perhaps that’s a sign of how much he is willing to put into his performance. He thinks and thinks and works out his roles in a variety of ways.”

As if to support that, Prabhavalkar added, “I was doing this Chinese man’s impersonation in Haswa Faswi. For some reason, I was not able to get the pronounciation right. So for a few days, I went to a restaurant in South Mumbai where Chinese waiters worked. I would sit and watch and hear how they conversed amongst themselves.”

In his younger days, Prabhavalkar went to extra lengths to prepare for his performance. “Many people of my age were impressed with Pu La Deshpande’s writing, his persona and performances. I got into acting because of him. As a college going youth, I once performed a segment of his one-act show, Batatyachi Chaal, during Ganeshotsav in my society. Later I was invited by other housing societies to perform in functions and picnics. Tyanantar me chekkaloch. (After that I went berserk with the praise) and I went to an optician to get myself the exact thick glasses that Pu La wore and the muffler that he draped around his neck. A neighbour stopped me saying if I tried to copy Pu La, Sunitabai (Sunita Deshpande, Pu La’s wife) would drag me to court. After that, I tried to keep myself in check,” reminisces Prabhavalkar. 

In his later performances, his natural style and tongue-in-cheek humour became his trademark. The actor says, “Humour has a great range. Take British humour for instance — you have Peter Sellers and then there is Mr Beans. I prefer tongue-in-cheek humour, poker-faced and farce. In Marathi, Govind Ballal introduced farce to our audience through Sangeet Sanshay Kallol. Later farce was popularised by Baban Prabhu and Atmaram Bhende. I was lucky to have been directed by Bhende. I think Bhau Kadam is a good comedian in present generation.”

Prabhavalkar, who has worked on stage, television and cinema, says the success of an actor lies in his adaptability. These days, however, he is confounded by changing speech patterns. “I try not to speak in bighadleli bhasha. But if the director insists, then I do that as well. There is no one standard, reference language to tell people that this is the way Marathi should be spoken. This will have an impact on our literature and cinema. I think every cinema has its language. In Fandry and Sairat, the milieu that they were set in, the background of the characters and the language that was spoken, everything was apt,” he explains.

For non-Maharashtrian audiences, he is the Gandhi in Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai. How he got the role is again an interesting story. “I was originally considered for the character of one of the old men, living in Second Innings home. But I was asked to audition for Gandhi instead and I was taken aback. Three days later, Raju (Hirani) called and he handed over the phone to Vidhu (Vinod Chopra) who said, “You have got a child-like smile. You are our Gandhi,” Prabhavalkar says.

It used to take him two and half hours of makeup and costume etc to get into Gandhi’s role. But before he shot for the role, Prabhavalkar read American journalist Louis Fischer’s book, Mahatma Gandhi - His Life and Times and heard a few audio speeches. 

“Gandhi was not a great orator. But he had the power to convince others, to make them believe in the cause. As an actor, playing legendary people is difficult. I work on three principles — One, you can’t detach yourself from your personality; second, you have to remember that you are playing a character; third, you have to watch yourself playing that character. Once during the shoot of Lage Raho...I was in Gandhi’s getup, and the shot was postponed so I sat down for lunch. I was offered chicken and as I looked up, I saw Gandhi eating chicken in the mirror before me. That shocked me. How could Gandhi eat meat? For the remaining days of the shoot, I abstained from eating meat,” he says.

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