60 Years of TO MEE NAVHECH

Avinash Kolhe

On 8th October, Marathi theatre lovers gathered at the Ravindra Natya Mandir to celebrate the 60 years of the staging of TO MEE NAVHECH (That is not me), which had originally premiered on 8th October 1962 at a theatre festival in New Delhi.

This unique programme was conceived by the daughters of Prabhakar Panshikar, Janhavi and Tarangini. With the help of Narendra Bedekar, another theatre enthusiast, they mounted this show which lasted for nearly three hours. It was a ''Housefull'' show and not a single person left in between. Dr Girish Oak performed some parts of the play to bring back memories of , Dr Oak performed some parts of the role to bring back the memories of TO MEE NAVHECH

When young Prabhakar Panshikar (1931-2011), popularly known as Pant, portrayed the character Lakhoba Lokhande, he hardly knew that it would become his identity in the years ahead. Acharya Pralhad Keshav Atre wrote TO MEE NAVHECH, a court-room drama based on the life of conman Madhav Kazi, an infamous criminal active during the mid-1950. He duped people through disguise and fraud, married many women for money and led many lives. He ensnared single women into his web, sweet-talk them into marrying him and later disappeared with their money. In due time he was caught and tried. The reporting of this court case was followed in Maharashtrian households almost like a daily soap opera. Atre’s firebrand newspaper, Maratha, also extensively reported the court proceedings. Eventually, Kazi was sent to jail. Atre studied the case thoroughly, cut out the legalese and came out with extremely engaging play.

TO MEE NAVHECH was was produced by Natya Niketan, a reputed production house run by M G Rangenkar who was known to take risks while casting. Accordingly, Rangenkar ignored the then leading lights like Ramesh Deo, Damoo Kenkre and Aatmaram Bhende. Instead, he cast Prabhakar Panshikar as the protagonist. The play is not only entertaining but full of social commentary on middle class cowardice and dishonesty.

The play was an instant hit and the role of Lakhoba Lokhande was performed by many actors since its inception. But nobody played Lakhoba like Prabhakar Panashikar did. Though Panashikar played many other roles like Aurangazeb in ITHE OSHALA MRUTU, which was based on the life of Sambhaji, Panshikar is known all over Maharashtra for the role of Lakhoba Lokhande. Even the legendary Dilip Kumar had come to watch this play.

Back in the 1960s this play was quite unique as the same actor had to do five completely different roles. And this was no stunt but the story demanded it. By 1965 the play also created history as it became the first Marathi play to use the Revolving stage between two scenes and flashbacks. TO MEE NAVHECH has been translated in many languages and has run over 3000 shows. However, the play had its own share of problems as Atre fought with Rangenkar over copyrights. Not only this, Atre claimed the entire credit for the huge success of the play. A legal case followed which got Atre the rights over the play. He immediately handed the play to Prabhakar Panshikar, who took the play to every corner of Maharashtra.

And when Panshikar became too old to play the role, he called Dr Girish Oak to take over from him. Years later Panshikar wrote his autobiography and aptly titled it as To Meech (That''s Me) On 8th October 2022.

*Avinash Kolhe is Mumbai-based theatre lover who has been enjoying and reviewing plays for 40 odd years.

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