Flashback : TO MEE NAVHECH

Deepa Gahlot

Acharya Atre's popular play, TO MEE NAVHECH, with Prabhakar Panshikar as the original Lakhoba Lokhande, can be watched and enjoyed online.

Acharya Atre's satire TO MEE NAVHECH was first performed in 1962 and went on to become a huge success. It was translated from Marathi into several languages, and turned into a Hindi film, Woh Main Nahin, as well as Tamil and Kannada versions.

Prabhakar Panshikar played the role of a suspected conman Lakhoba Lokhande for over three decades and hundreds of shows (later other actors, like Girish Oak, Sanjay Mone and Sumeet Raghavan took over the role). The play was filmed in 1989, with Panshikar speaking to the audience at the end, explaining that they decided to make a video (with Prism), directed by Vinayak Chaskar, so that the play could reach audiences who did not have access to the live production.

TO MEE NAVHECH was based on the case of a real-life conman, Madhav Kazi, who married and cheated a number of women. It is set mostly in a courtroom where Lakhoba Lokhande is being tried for fraud and defending himself. In the stage play, revolving sets were used, the video dispensed with that.

Atre had little or no sympathy for the women who were duped; in what would be considered very politically incorrect today, Lokhande says that women get educated and can't find husbands. So when they reach their late twenties they get desperate, otherwise why would they marry a man without checking his credentials? (Today, of course, the internet has made this easier, though people still fall victim to swindlers).

Every time a man or woman steps into the witness box to accuse him of deceiving them, he turns around and makes them out to be either foolish, greedy or corrupt. Lokhande sticks to his claim that he is a tobacco merchant from Nippani, married and a father and not the man they believe him to be. The conman who preys on the gullible women, is a master of disguise and so sharp that he decimates the arguments of his accusers in court and insists, 'That is not me.'

He even proves that the cocky cop who caught him, did not know what the culprit looked like, and simply nabbed an innocent man wearing similar clothes.

Panshikar played Lokhande and his various avatars, including a religious leader, with aplomb; as Lokhande he gave himself a facial tick that could either be read as an indication of guilt. However, he has no qualms making fun of the prosecutor, judge and witnesses against him; the only one speaking on his behalf is the woman he admits is his wife from Nippani, who is a hatchet-tongued rural virago.

In spite of the comic overtones of the story as written by Atre, he did not allow Lokhande to get away with it, and his end is not happy. Still, for nearly three hours of the play's run time, Panshikar has the audience in splits and when it ends, many must be thinking that they could also encounter someone like him and not recognize him as a fraud. Every day the newspapers carry stories of naive victims of clever hoaxes.

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on deepagahlot.com)

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