A lot of people have asked me about my entry into Marathi theatre. The image of a modern English Rock singer in the traditional world of Marathi culture was an impossibility to envisage! Yet it happened and therein lies a long story. Something that could only be possible because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city of Bombay, the commercial hub of the nation and the innate innovativeness of the people of Pune, the bastion of Marathi culture and tradition.
It started with my performance in Alyque
Padamseeís production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in 1974. This was
my acting and singing initiation in the world of English theatre and I was very
fortunate that it was in the hands of the very best in the field. The
production was a huge hit and it went on to be a major milestone in the lives
of all the people involved in it. In those days, Dr Jabbar Patel was the rising
star in the dynamic world of Marathi Theater with the path breaking
"Ghashiram Kotwal" to his credit. Jabbar, a man at his creative best,
naturally checked out this production, that was the talk of the town at that
Jabbar was at that time collaborating on a script with the genius of Maharashtrian literature and performing arts, Pu La Deshpande. The play, an adaptation of Bertol Brechtís "Three Penny Opera" was to be a grand production in the style of his famous "Ghashiram Kotwal" with a cast of over 50 people. Produced by Theatre Academy, Pune, the play was being visualized by Jabbar as a musical that would encompass varied Indian styles of music like Lavni, Ghazal, Qawali, Bhavgeet, Natya Sangeet etc. and he now saw the possibility of the added, aggressive dimension of Rock Music. The play was a story of Crime, Sex and Politics and its intermingling connections, truly a story of our times, and Jabbar saw the possibility of using the raw energy of Rock to depict the power and brutality of Crime. He wanted me to play the chief protagonist, Ankush, a gang lord who graduates to politics. Now the only thing that remained in his plan of casting me was to find out whether I could actually speak Marathi!
To be frank, the use of Marathi in my life at that time was very limited. My education has been in English and my Dad, besides his performing arts activities, had a corporate job while my mother with her three masters degrees and PhD, was in the academic field. English was the pre dominant language used at home and my friends, being mostly non-Maharashtrian, my use of Marathi was chiefly from exposure to my parentís dramatic activities and interactions with their numerous interesting friends from this exciting field. My love for music helped to select and record the background music for the plays that we did in those days and as a kid, I used to be involved in operating the tape recorder in all my Dadís dramatic productions. I guess understanding Marathi was never the problem but I really didnít ever have the need to speak the language. So, when Jabbar finally interviewed me for the role, I was wondering whether I could cut it.
Surprisingly Jabbar had far more confidence in me than I had in myself and he assured me that we would rehearse till we got it right. Somehow that gave me the strength to accept the offer and the rest is history. On 25th June 1978, the play opened to full houses and went on for many years and hundreds of performances. As usual, with all of Jabbarís production there was a lot of controversy, especially regarding my role and the use of Rock in the production and it was loved and hated by thousands of Puneites. It shocked thousands of conservative citizens whose first instinct was to resist change of any nature. Fortunately, the people who loved the play triumphed and every year there are rumors of reviving it, especially as it seems to be even more relevant today than it ever was. As for me, with my improved Marathi, I am even more confident of socking it to the people than ever before. So watch out everybody!