Pravin Solanki
Jahnavi Pal talks to the very energetic and enthusiastic Pravin Solanki on his life thus far, career challenges and theatre today.

 By Jahnavi Pal

205 plays. Six decades as a playwright. Age 80 and still continues with his craft.Pravin Solanki is a force to reckon with on the Gujarati stage. He also has to his credit films, TV serials and two volumes of ghazals. Having lived near the Bhangwadi theatre where traditional plays were performed he was influenced by this style of theatre. Solanki says that most of plays are based on ideas from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Having worked with most known directors like Arvind Thakkar, Kanti Madia, Feroze Bhagat, Siddharth Randeria, Solanki has penned plays of different genres. For Solanki his first commercial play Koi na aankh ma sapna rame (a suspense thriller) was a runaway hit and there was no looking back after this.

"I began writing plays when I was in school," he begins. "My first brush with success was when I wrote my first play for a state competition. The play was performed all over the city and I received a hefty sum of Rs 25 for the same. I needed the money at that time as my father passed away and the responsibility of looking after my family fell on my shoulders. Had I not needed the money I would probably been a musician not a writer."

He then took up a job in Bank Of India as banks in those days encouraged theatre artistes and craftsmen. He worked with the bank for 36 years and was never transferred from the branch. In fact he sat in the same chair for all those years and would even leave for rehearsals after 2 pm.

Solanki says life is a drama. Talking about his journey thus far he says,

"Fortunately I have not had to struggle much in my professional life but on the personal front it's been a roller coaster ride."

Having written 200 odd plays he must have faced tremendous challenges. So which was that one play that proved a huge challenge ?

"Each and every play is a challenge. When writing any play one has to satisfy everyone associated with it. The director, the producer, actors and most importantly the audience. I always say that I am a tailor. I cut according to the requirements of the director and adhere to the taste of the audience. When I wrote for a director like Kanti Madia I would write three jokes when he asked for one as I knew that he would trash two of them! But I can say that it was Mahamanav, which was trans-created by me from the American film Charlie. The film was about an intellectually disabled adult who is selected by two doctors to undergo a surgical procedure that triples his IQ as it did for a laboratory mouse who also underwent the same procedure. Many directors had tried to do this play but were unsuccessful. Madia showed me the film and I agreed to take up this challenge. It turned out to be the decade's best play!"

For the current lot of theatre lovers Solanki is more known as the man behind the success of the Gujjubhai series, GUJJUBHAI BANYA DABANG, GUJJUBHAI GAAM GAJAVYU, LAGE RAHO GUJJUBHAI and others. But Solanki confesses that though this was one of his most successful works there is no job satisfaction with this series.

"Unfortunately, audiences remember me for these and not plays like BAAN SHAIYYA, KOI BHINTETHI AAINO UTARO or MRUGJAL SEENCHINE UCHERI VEL. It upsets me that I am not given credit for some of my most creative works. Gujjubhai is all about Siddharth Randeria. It has given me fame but no satisfaction."

Solanki confesses that its toughest to write a commercial masala play; it's in such plays that the craftsmanship of a playwright is put to test. Commercial craftsmanship is difficult as well as against a play that has strong content. Now he adds it's all a khichdi (hotpotch) of dance, comedy, music, jokes. Though he believes that theatre has undergone a change in the past two years.

"Now audiences are demanding good content. But sadly they don't come to watch a god play as the cost of productions has gone up considerably as a result pushing tickets rates up as well."

With audience tastes undergoing a sea change over the years how does he adapt himself?

"Every successful writer has to change as per the demands. This business is all about demand and supply. I have to understand the need. I understand the grammar of drama but one is required to write as per the business of theatre. Audiences are very intelligent but all they want is entertainment. The basic principle is to please audiences."

Solanki has always said that he can write only under pressure. He says he writes best when he is under stress.

"When I was a kid I would enter the exam hall feeling completely blank. I felt I didn't know anything. But the moment I got my answer sheet I could recall everything I had studied. So is it with plays. I first write the broad framework and then keep letting it evolve during rehearsals. I even write whilst the actors rehearse. This does inconvenience them but they do adapt as they know it's in the interest of the play."

So what is he writing currently?

"I am not writing anything right now. This is not the time to create as my mind is unstable because of the environment. It is a time to reach out to people. To be helpful. I find it childish even to write any poetry as all of a sudden there is a deluge of poets on social media. Everyone and anyone is a poet."

Looking back at his illustrious career as a writer of plays, ghazals and poetry what would he best like to be remembered for?

"Fame is like a candle. People will forget me once I am gone. Nobody remembers the dead. Yes, I am a bit of a pessimist but very spiritual. One goes into nothingness."

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