Deepak Gheewala Interview
After six decades as an actor the greatest take away from this veteran actor is his humility and the fire in his belly which is still raging and that’s what keeps him going even at the age of 80. Unlike many others of his ilk who speak with arrogance and disdain, Deepak Gheewala is full of reverence and warmth. Despite the fact that he has entertained audiences for so many years the actor is a lesson in modesty. The actor is still working with a never-say-die attitude. All set to resume shooting for his ongoing serial Yeh Rishte Hai Pyar Ke, the affable actor finds time to talk about his illustrious career on the Gujarati stage.

 By Jahnavi Pal

MUTHI UCHERO MANAS, VASUDEV KUTUMBHAKAM, BE DOONI PAANCH, HEEM ANGARA, MAHASAGAR, MAANAS NAME KARAGAR, CHITKAR, MANAS HOVANO MANE DANKH are some of his landmark plays. Gheewala has also been doing Hindi serials and some of the popular ones being Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka, R.K. Laxman Ki Duniya, Diya Aur Bati, Teen Bahuraniyan and Yeh Rishte Hai Pyar Ke. He was also seen in films like Accidental Prime Minister, Rustom , Dhaakad, Baazar.

Born in 1939 in Ahmedabad Gheewala started his career in 1955 when he was a school going boy of 15. "The first five years I was too young to understand what acting was all about. But since I had the good fortune of acting with a good actor and director like Pratap Oza in my first play NAR BANKHA I got to learn a lot. He played my father in this play. It was a play of valour and courage and though my role was very small I got noticed and received a lot of praise. But I never understood the seriousness of my work though I was surrounded by stalwarts like Madhukar Randeria, Lila Jariwala, Pratap Oza , Dina Pathak, Tarla Joshi. I saw them rehearsing. I heard them talking. They had a fabulous control over the language and over their craft which is not seen nowadays. Sixteen onwards I was told by my father who was a professor of History and Economics that my language skills were not good. He asked me to read Gujarati literature. I too realised that I lacked somewhere as audience feedback was not good and journalists too criticised me. My guru was Chandravadan Bhatt who trained me in understanding the nuances of the language and even helped me understand stage craft."

And in 1963 Gheewala went on to do his first commercial play MAARE JUDA THAVU CHHE which proved to be a huge hit with audiences. The interesting thing about this play was that Gheewala played a meaty role in this one opposite the late actor Sanjeev Kumar. "Though Sanjeev had a small role he stood out. Sanjeev was so focused and had immense talent. He was struggling as an actor to get work but his dedication and commitment soon opened the doors of Hindi films for him. By '65 he got good roles in films and slowly quit theatre. In fact Vijay Dutt, Chandravadan Bhatt and his wife Niharikaben acted in this play as well and I learnt a lot from all of them. After this play Sanjeev and me became good friends but I never imposed on him as he was really busy. But he would always ask me to drop by wherever he was shooting but I would not as i didn't think this was the right thing to do."

Soon Gheewala too was leading a hectic life as he was offered a lot of good work and rehearsals and shows kept him busy. " A very interesting play came my way then which I consider as one of my finest on stage, MANAS NAME KARAGAR which I did with the most illustrious names on Gujarati stage, Pravin Joshi. It was adapted from 12 Angry Men and I played a small role of a businessman. Pravin Joshi was an institution and I learnt so much from him. Subsequently I joined Vijay Dutt and Lalu Shah and did a play called ABHISHEK in 1968. I had an excellent role in this play and the two main leads were Vijay Dutt and Padmarani. We did over 250 shows in a time when there were no charity shows or social groups which organised shows. I then directed my first play called CHAKDOL based on which a Hindi film was made called Aaj Ki Taja Khabar. This had Shailesh Dave playing a pivotal role. But it was in 1975 that I got my major big break with a play called HEEM ANGARA which was based on Harkisan Mehta's novel Roshanlal. I played the role of the doctor, Roshanlal who was a split personality character and it was so challenging that any actor would give his right arm to do this play. The play had a very high production value M.S. Sathyu designed this play. He did the sets and the lights. It was very well received by audiences as well."

By now Gheewala was firmly entrenched on the Gujarati stage and he went on to do many social plays. In between he even acted in a few Gujarati films. "But I enjoyed my life on stage. It was creatively a very satisfying phase in my life and I did another good play titled MAHASAGAR. It was written by Kanti Madia and directed by Arvind Thakkar. This play focused on the conflicts within a middle-class family and Ragini and I played the leads. I then did a couple of plays with Burjor Patel like KHUNNAS and UGI DAPAN NI DADH a roaring comedy. One of my other favourites was AANKHE KANKOONA SURAJ AATHMYA where again Ragini and I were playing lead roles. But it was DARLING DARLING which was Ragini's debut on stage and where I played the lead opposite her that brings back good memories. "

Gheewala shares that the turning point in his life came in 1975 and then for over two decades continuously he did some good work. "Plays like BE DOONI PAANCH where I played four roles and Kanti Madia's CHEHRA MOHRA where I played a double role were also amongst my career's best. The atmosphere prevailing at that time in the world of Gujarati theatre was very good. There was no mediocre work happening. I also give my audiences full credit as they accepted good experimental plays and received them well. Nowadays we lack good scripts and plays in the comedy genre are nothing but a string of WA jokes! That was the era of stalwarts like Adi Marzban, Kanti Madia, Chandravadan Bhatt, Pravin Joshi who gave us excellent plays. There was a play called KAACHI NINDAR KAACHA SAPNA that was based on Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN which I can see over and over again. It was par excellence. Actors too put in their best. We would rehearse for at least two months for a play as all the plays then were three-act plays. Who does this now? I would love to mention another fine play MANAS HOVANO MANE DANKH where I played a psychopath. Rohini Hattangady played the lead in this one. I am blessed that I have done all kinds of roles and never refused any role saying it's negative. I have enjoyed all genres as this is what moulds you as an actor. I can say that I have enjoyed the golden age of Gujarati theatre. I put my play MAHAYATRA in my career's best list as well where I play a victim of AIDS. Though the subject was a serious one, audiences loved it."

Sharing some emotional moments from his life the actor says, "In 1992 I was to do a show of BE DOONI PAANCH in Ahmedabad when I got a call that my mother had passed away. I rushed back to Mumbai and got back the very next day for the show. This play was an out and out comedy where I had to play four roles and I had not even got over the passing away of my mother! In fact in 1976 even when I lost my dad I was doing HEEM ANGARA the very next day. Even when my first son was born I was at Birla performing for three shows on the same day when I was given the news. I rushed to the hospital after my performance to see my newborn for the first time. But the one memorable incident that comes to mind is when I was doing a play called BAAJIGAR for Dinyar Contractor productions. It so happened that my flight was delayed and couldn't reach in time for the performance. But Feroz Bhagat who was the director knew the play well and stepped in my place. I reached during the interval and then took over after the interval. A play where two different actors did the same role in one play but the audiences accepted it."

Gheewala moves on to a very landmark serial he acted in, R. K. Laxman Ki Duniya where he played the iconic common man. "I did a lot of research for this one and imbibed the nuances of this character which made it enjoyable for everyone."

Gheewala has directed almost ten plays but concentrated only as an actor. He confesses it was difficult to concentrate on both and hence decided to only focus on acting. Today at 80 he is deeply grateful that he is still doing what he loves most and it's the adrenalin rush that he gets each time he goes to work that keeps him going. "I hope I am able to carry on what a couple of years more. Though my mind says go my body says slow down!"

But for the moment the actor is happy playing a playful grandfather in the serial Yeh Rishte Hai Pyar Ke.

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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