Chandrashekhar Gokhale Interview
It was a great privilege to talk to Chandrashekhar Gokhale on his theatre journey. He is rarely seen on professional circuits, as he is always busy playing wonderful characters in his experimental plays. Currently, he has shifted to Konkan and is exploring new dimensions of life.

 By Vipul Mahagaonkar

"We shifted to Dombivali when I was in fourth grade. Dombivali is a culturally rich town. There was a Ganpati temple near our house. There used to be nice kirtan programmes there. My father was very fond of them and he always took me with him. I loved listening to kirtans. The kirtankar used to perform mythological stories in a very dramatic way. It made people laugh, cry and sing. Kirtan is in itself a solo performance. Of course, at that time I didn't understand it. I loved the story he told, and I used to come home and mimic it. The seed of acting in me must have taken root from here. I went to see kirtans till I went to college. I have witnessed some of the great kirtankars of those years and have bunked school to see my favourite kirtankars perform." he recalls.

"I used to read excerpts from plays and perform them for myself, never in front of anybody. I didn't even participate in school gatherings. As I was never good at studies, I felt always neglected. The same school used to host professional plays in its open theatre in summer and winter and I used to sit on the compound wall and watch them. "

He shares his experience of performing, "One day while walking through the school passage I overheard a student rehearsing some lines from the play NATSAMRAT and I went into the classroom. I asked the teacher if I could audition. He said it was too late. Upon requesting several times, he allowed me to perform and I was selected for the show. The monologue was well received and it gave me immense confidence to participate in plays. In my college years, I have acted in plays like MHYA written by Ramesh Pawar and Vijay Tendulkar's SHANTATA! COURT CHALU AAHE. Every year we used to perform two plays and read and brainstorm on many. It created a foundation for an actor in me."

After college, he joined BEST and started performing in State level competitions. He says, "In a real sense, the best part of my theatre life started when I was in BEST. I started working in the accounts department in their Colaba (South Mumbai) office immediately after six months of graduation. In the second year, I got to know that there is a separate division for Dramatics and One Act plays. BEST has a rich culture and tradition when it comes to theatre. Many stalwarts like Prashant Damle and Arun Nalawade have participated in the one act play competitions. Performing with these stalwarts was a profound experience. I learned simplicity and comic timing on stage from there. Vijay Patkar, another director who came to direct a play when Prashant was busy, opened a different world for me, the world of fast comedy and flexible body movements."

Talking about his comedy roles he says, "Humour was always my way out. My family had no background in any art. My father was working in the Air Force. We followed strict discipline in the house.There was a major accident in the house when I was two months old. A stove exploded when my mother and I were near it. Fortunately my father was at home. My mother suffered lots of burns and suffered a mental breakdown, and her condition worsened. She had to be sent to Thane Asylum. I grew up in Badlapur with my grandmother. Since there was always a kind of sad shadow in the house because of my mother's illness, humour became my defence mechanism. I never liked to do tragedies. From 1982 to 1989, I was a regular participant in one act plays and State drama competitions doing comedy roles."

He further adds, "On the one hand, Prashant Damle, Arun Nalawade were settling in the commercial theatre circuit, I did not dare to leave my job and turn to be a professional actor. I preferred to become an officer by taking internal exams. I also did three commercial plays from Sahitya Sangha, of course, comedic roles.There was a time when I got bored of consistently doing comedic roles and no one took me seriously for dramatic roles. I stopped working in the plays with the intention of getting a serious role. That's the tradegy."

Talking about his comeback to stage after 11 years, he says, "While my theatre had almost stopped, suddenly in 2011 Satish Salagare came to me with a script called TANAYA for the State drama competition. He was confident about the script. The central character was a professor. I said I haven't been on stage in 10 to 11 years now and it's a risk that you're giving me an important role in a State drama competition. But he believed in me. After reading sessions, I finally got ready. After 10 years of working and playing comedy roles over and over again, my movements were no longer a problem. Satish worked hard on me. The play came first in the first round and I won the silver medal for acting. It was one of the finest days of my life. My dream came true. I also won a silver medal in the final. All credit goes to the director, Satish Salgare."

He continues, "In 2015, I did a play KHIDKI based on Dario Fo's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST. It was one of the important plays of my life. We had a number of reading sessions before we started rehearsing. One thing that the director (the writer of this piece) emphasised was the ease in movements and dialogues on which we spent a good amount of time. I won the best actor award in the State competition and won the Zee Natya Award in 2016. We went on to participate in a few theatre festivals where the play was highly appreciated."

On his break from theatre and leading a secluded life, he says, "There is so much to learn from theatre… I have paused a bit to reflect on everything that I gained from theatre to come back again and learn more. This time of my life is crucial for me."

*Vipul Mahagaonkar is a director, playwright and filmmaker.

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