Bharati Achrekar Interview
Very few actors can boast of the kind of work Bharati Achrekar has done in her career spanning forty years. An actor par excellence Bharati has been a leading light on the Marathi stage. A theatre legend Bharti has not only acted on stage, but has also worked in several films and TV serials. Her fans remember her for her role as Mrs Wagle in the popular TV serials Wagle Ki Duniya but it is her work in theatre that is to be celebrated.

 By Jahnavi Pal

With a vocalist like the renowned Manik Varma as a mother it was no surprise that Bharati too took to singing at a very young age. "Actually I always accompanied my mother for her outstation concert tours. I would even sit behind her on stage though I couldn't even hold a tanpura at that age but I would sing what she sang," reminisces Bharati. "At that young age I didn't know what I wanted to become when I grew up and it was only natural that for the moment I enjoyed music."

The three siblings, Bharati, Vandana (Gupte) and Rani (Varma) stayed with their maternal grandmother in Pune as both her parents would travel often. "We grew up in a very liberal atmosphere as my parents gave us the freedom to do what we wanted. In fact I was only 17 when I was offered my first role as an actor and since there was no opposition from my family I accepted it with great joy. It was for a musical called DHANYA TE GAYANI KALA where I played Tansen's daughter. It was a complete classical music play and I was so excited as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi had composed the music. In addition I also got paid for it and money at that age is most tempting," she says with a laugh.

After a few plays Bharati got married and then gave up acting. She got into TV production and started working with Doordarshan ."I was the first person in 1972 to join TV as a producer. I did several cultural shows and every time some artiste passed away I would be called to put together an obituary celebrating the life and time of that artiste. It was a very exciting time but at the end of it was a Government job and there were many limitations. I had once again started to get acting offers and I decided to quit the job. I have always believed in doing only thing at a time. Moreover I was getting quality offers so the temptation to switch careers was even more. "

And in 1978 Bharati played one of the most defining roles of her lifetime in the path breaking play HAMIDABAI CHI KOTHI. "The icing on the cake was that it was directed by mentor Vijaya Mehta. She not only directed it but played the lead role as well. It was the turning point in my life. Besides this it had some of the finest talent of Marathi theatre- Neena Joshi, Ashok Saraf, Nana Patekar. The play set in the post-Independence era focused on the changing times of a kothewali who began life with thumris and ghazals and then how film music changed it all. Nana Patekar played a pimp and my lover in this play. I have such fond memories of this play and consider it one of my finest performances."

But what left the actor heartbroken was that the performances of this play had to end when Ashok Saraf quit the show. " In 1978 Ashok was a very big name. In fact nobody knew Nana then. Banking on this the producer took this to small towns where Ashok had scores of fans. But what he didn't realise was that Ashok was known for his comic timing and this play was a period drama with music as its mainstay and not a comedy. People only came to see him. Nobody was interested in either the play or us. This play was an urban play and not meant for small towns. Ashok was very upset and quit the show saying he couldn't do it any longer. And the play stopped too. It was the saddest day for all of us."

Life dealt Bharati a huge blow as she lost her husband in 1984 and was left alone to look after her son. "Now it was a matter of survival for me. Since I had to look after my young son I needed money and hence continued to act. Luckily I have never had to solicit for work and offers kept coming my way. I did several TV serials and films which kept me in good stead. As far as theatre was concerned I could survive as most of my plays ran for over 25 shows. "

Mentioning some of her powerful performances Bharati says, "I am not a very ambitious person. So when good offers came my way I used to be ecstatic. After HAMIDABAI CHI KOTHI I did MAHASAGAR (1979) again directed by Vijaya Mehta. It had Vikram Gokhale, Nana Patekar and Neena Joshi and me in the lead roles. By now I was settled financially and wanted to seriously pursue drama. In less than one and a half years, we did 350 shows of MAHASAGAR. In fact, Neena and myself were the last to leave this play. Vikram Gokhale and Nana Patekar had left earlier making way for a new cast. The other noteworthy play I did was MUKHOTE based on AADHE ADHURE, directed by Amol Palekar. And coming to my most recent play that I thoroughly enjoyed – GAA RE MAA. A heartwarming play on filling the generation gap which has arisen because of a conflict of your choice in music. A story of two mothers and their sons and how they try to find harmony in their lives. Suneeta Rao and me play the two mothers. The play is directed by Anahita Uberoi. I play the role of Jaya who is a revered classical singer. Until this play I had never performed at the Prithvi Theatre and I so enjoyed my first experience with this wonderful theatre. "

Bharati did her last Marathi play about ten years ago and is not very upbeat about the kind of plays that Marathi stage offers today. "Everyone is moving to TV or films and hence there is lack of talent on stage now. Marathi theatre is totally commercialized and they have no time for symposiums or discussions that can help the growth of quality theatre. Earlier we had Chhabildas but nothing. I too did serials where I didn't have much to do but as I was a single mother I couldn't afford to be choosy. Hence I will not be judgmental. I have no regrets as I did this consciously."

Talking about those who influenced her in her personal and professional life Bharati says, "My parents were my major driving force for the freedom they gave us. They allowed us to bloom. My mother though was the wind beneath my wings. My biggest regret and hers as well, was the fact that I didn't become a singer. I was a natural singer and my mother was very keen that I follow her footsteps. In fact the last thing she said to me when she died was that she deeply regretted the fact that I didn't take to singing. I must add here that music was the reason I got back to acting. Had I not been offered musicals like TANSEN and HAMIDABAI it would have been a different story."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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