Nagesh Bhosale
Theatre, Film and Television Actor, Nagesh Bhosale was recently given the Best Actor Award for Ramu Ramanathan’s COTTON 56, POLYESTER 84 by the META (Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards) committee. The jury included the names of veteran theatre and film people such as Amol Palekar, Shyam Benegal and Anita Ratnam. For Nagesh this moment is like a milestone in his career. After all not only has he won a national recognition with this award but he is also very happy to have got Bhau’s character, which he beautifully portrays in the play. Yet another of his recent performances, which have won him appreciation, is his character of Ediya in Swar Thounaojam’s TUREL. The talented actor gives off a brooding air and he may appear as if he is a man of few words, but he pleasantly surprised Mumbai Theatre Guide by granting us an indulgent interview. Here Nagesh reflects on his career as an actor and in the process emphasizes on the skills that an actor must possess.

 Deepa Punjani

Tell us a little about yourself. How were you first initiated to the theatre? What are your earliest experiences?
I was born in Nagpur in the year 1960. My name can perhaps be read as an amalgamation of two popular Indian festivals- Nagpanchami and Krishna Janmasthami. While I was in college I saw one play, AATA MANUSHYA JAGNE. It was part of the final round of the Maharashtra state level competition and was being performed at Rang Mandir in Nagpur. It was not that I had not seen other plays before; I liked the theatre for as long as I remember but after seeing this play and after particularly watching Arun Nalawade (the actor who won critical acclaim for his role in Sandeep Sawant’s debut film, ‘Shwaas’ that won the National award and which went to the Oscars) I was moved. I was impressed with the play and with Alvade’s performance in it. Then the following year I acted in a play called KONDMARA. I was playing the main role in it. The play was in Zunri, a dialect of Marathi that is found in Zunar in the Nagar zilla in Maharashtra. The play went off very well. It got the best play, the best director awards and I won the best actor award. After this play, the two consecutive plays that I participated in 1989 and 90’ too won me the best actor awards.

Eventually like every other actor who wants to come to Mumbai, I found myself in the city. Sabki tarah main bhi bambai aa gaya (Like everyone else I too came to Bombay) This was sometime in the early nineties. Being a Marathi actor I used to go to Shivaji Mandir and just hang around there in the early days, hoping to find work. Just like every other struggler does. I must say that I owe a lot to my wife Joy who supported me in every way she could. One day while I was humming a tune I met Mangesh Kulkarn, a very renowned Marathi actor, poet and writer from the time of ‘Rangayan’. He told me that the casting was on for Vijaya bai’s Hindi production of Karnad’s NAGMANDALA. I followed his advice and went the following day. Mr. Bhaskar Chandawarkar was doing the auditioning and he selected me. He was also in charge of the music for the play. This was a big production not only in terms of the well-known people associated with it but also in terms of scale. I was very lucky I feel to get a role in the chorus. And while we were rehearsing I don’t know what Mr. Chandavarkar must have felt, he gave me the role of the lead singer-the sutradhar (narrator) in the play. I used to sing 17 songs in Chattisgarhi style and all of them had high notes. This production (thanks to Mangesh Kulkarni) put me in touch with highly experienced people of the Marathi stage. I learnt a lot from Vijaya bai and I found myself assisting a very big workshop on Acting at the NCPA. So that process with bai was a wonderful experience.

How did you learn the Chattisgarhi style of singing?
Oh that was an interesting process in itself. Mr. Chandavarkar came to us with musical chants, which had no words. He then tried putting words into those chants. We tried inserting words from varied Indian languages such as Marathi, Hindi, Bhojpuri…Somehow what finally emerged was a mixture of Hindi, Bhojpuri and Chattisgarhi. That is how the lyrics came about. And Mr. Chandavarkar is a brilliant music director. He has a terrific knowledge of songs. Again I just feel very lucky to have been a part of it all.

So then it was NAGMANDALA that marked your entry on the Mumbai stage.
Yes in a way. And there were people who helped me all along. Soon I found myself working with Mohan Wagh’s ‘Chandralekha’. I was suddenly in the big league of Marathi commercial theatre. In AKAASH MITHI I did two small historical roles. I played Netaji Palker, Shivaji’s commander-in-chief and I also played a character called Syyad Bhanda who was Afzal Khan’s right hand. So in the play I had these two small, but very different roles. This play opened up avenues for me in the commercial circuit. I worked with different directors such as Dilip Kolatkar, Vijay Kenkre, Waman Kendre…Till 96-97’ I was doing a lot of Marathi commercial theatre. I began with sixty rupees per show with ‘Chandralekha’. But here I must rewind a bit. I must mention this production called AATA LAGNA LA CHALA (directed by Janardhan Lavangare), which I did in 84-85’. This production was in the style of loknatya (a form of Maharashtrain folk theatre). It was what you can say a sophisticated version of a Tamasha. I used to play a king in that play and used to sing too. Now that production was a great learning experience. This is because loknatya is a form in which you have to have your presence felt. The actor has to be energetic, alert and has to meet the impromptu demands of the audience members. There is a constant give and take between actors and audience in this kind of theatre. A presence of mind is indispensable as is the concept of ‘timing’. That theatre made my actor’s base. Now that I recollect it, it helped me in all the commercial plays that followed later.

But sometime in 96 or 97’ you stopped doing Marathi commercial theatre.
Yes. That was the time when I was offered the tele-serial ‘Hasratein’. Now ‘Hasratein’, directed by Ajay Sinha was one of the first tele-serials, which marked the big wave of satellite Tv in India. And my character of Kishan Murari in it grew to become a popular one. Even today I find people who remember that character. One tele-serial led to another. Serials like ‘CID’, ‘Aahat’ and ‘Bhavar’ followed. However the first serial I did was for Doordarshan. It was called ‘Upanyas’ and was directed by Vinay Dhumale. That time DD was the only channel available. I did my first scene with Shekhar Kapoor. I was a new actor and Shekhar was very helpful. There’s one thing I would like to say here. I am still very much working for the directors with whom I began my television work.

Yes I think it is about the relationship that develops between a director and an actor. And one would I believe prefer to work with like-minded people.
That’s true. It always works better that way. You feel more comfortable. So that’s how I gravitated from commercial Marathi theatre towards television. Films then were not far behind. The first Marathi film I did was called ‘Bangarwadi’. It was directed by Amol Palekar. I never fail to remember all along my artistic journey that I met the right people at the right time. Sometimes things didn’t come to a pass but I still met the people who mattered. ‘Bangarwadi’ was counted as one of the 10 best films in 1997. Then immediately after that film I did another one with Amol again called ‘Daayra’. That film was also well-received and was part of various international festivals. Later in 1999, I acted in a film called ‘Bombay Boys’, which was directed by Kaizad Gustad. I did a cameo in that film. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to E. Nivas by Anurag Kasyap and I did films like ‘Shool’ and ‘Bardaast’.

So from the mid-nineties you got busy with television and film assignments. But being a man of the theatre, first and foremost, it never completely left your side as your recent success with Ramu Ramanathan’s COTTON 56, POLYESTER 84 shows. How did you come to know Ramu?
It was actor Kishore Kadam who introduced me to Ramu Ramanathan. Ek natak tha (there was one play)- DEDH INCH UPAR. It was a one-act play; a big monologue that Ramu wanted to direct. We decided to do the play in two languages-in Hindi and in English. Kishore used to do the English version while I used to do it in Hindi. So that’s how I got to know Ramu. Before long I found myself acting in one of the strangest productions of my life. It was called ANGST ANGST COONTAH COONTAH BHOOM BHAAM DHANDHAL DHAMAAL KAPUT. Needless to say, it too was directed by Ramu.

How the hell did you get convinced for it?
(Laughs). The thing was that I was damn impressed with Ramu. There are very few people like him. So I thought that there was something in the play, which I may not understand but I took solace from Ramu’s vision of it. I tried to ask him a couple of times- ki bhai kya chal raha hai?? (brother, what is going on??) But you know Ramu.

(Laughs). Well I think it’s just a relief to know that we weren’t the only ones in the cast to feel that. I think all of us expressed our doubts at one point or the other. It is true that we were all just motivated in our conviction of what Ramu wanted to show. It is sad that he was unable to get the required stage design and the property for the production. And it couldn’t have been easy. He was after all experimenting with a new form. For my side I was thoroughly excited by the prospect of doing something so different.
It was a play based on complete and total improvisation. Something however didn’t go right. Anyway. Let’s say we all did it for Ramu. After that production I also participated in those stories from ‘Katha’. The production was called TIME TO TELL A TALE and while doing all this I was constantly communicating with Ramu. I think he was able to sense my actor’s potential and one day he did say that he had written a monologue for me. I can’t recollect the name of the piece right now. It is still lying with Ramu. We did a couple of readings. The piece has something to do with adivasis (aboriginals) and he himself read the piece at various places and each time he would say that this piece is for Nagesh Bhosale. I came to know about this through other people and I consider it a significant gesture. And then he wrote COTTON 56…for me.

Did he ever tell you about the play…give you an idea about it?
He told me that this is for you. He told me when he was still writing the play. COTTON 56…actually gave me the kind of role, which I was longing for the last 15 or 16 years. I had been doing various characters but this role is different. I am just so thankful to Ramu for giving it to me.

In it you play Bhau Saheb, a girni kamgar (mill worker) reduced to the fringes of an ever-increasing urban skyline. How did you prepare for the character?
My experience with loknatya could not have come more handy. Through loknatya I have met workers, shahirs (people’s poets). I have seen their lives first hand and am also deeply aware of the fate of the mill workers. Knew what had happened to them. My experience in singing further aided my character. I used to sing as a shahir in loknatya and Bhau Saheb is also a shahir.

You’re one of the few actors who are able to sing well. Were you trained in music at any time or do you just happen to be one of those natural singers?
No I haven’t undergone any training. I think I have a natural inclination for music, which was honed by people like Mr. Chandavarkar. I also learnt from people like Dr. Ranade about voice culture. It is important to deliver the words while singing. I love music and I like to sing but unfortunately I never practice. For my role in COTTON 56…I was greatly encouraged by Sunil Shanbag, the director and by Bali Deshmukh, one of our musicians. Actually I do not know whether I am an actor, singer or a musician. I think I am not any one of them. Just because to be any of them you have to be complete actor or singer or musician, and I don’t think I am. They say an actor must be a singer, a dancer. I think I fall in this category of an actor who can sing a bit and act a bit.

All the songs that have been used in COTTON 54… are critical to its narrative. Having known you from the ANGST ANGST…days, I have a feeling that you may have devised or at least helped write a few of the songs. Is that true?
No, I did not write any of the songs but I changed words here and there. There was an interesting chemistry or you can say an understanding between Sunil and me about the music and the lyrics. Whenever I did not like something about the tune or the lyrics, I discovered that Sunil too was unhappy with exactly the same thing. So together we managed to come up with our understanding of the music.

As an actor what do you look for in a script?
It is rare that as character- actors we get a chance to decide the kind of roles that we want. Normally the people in charge like the director decide and then cast you into the role if you are willing. So till such time you can dictate your own terms as to what kind of role you want to portray, you have to work towards making the best out of the character assigned to you. But let me give you the example of AAKASH MITHI, a play I have earlier mentioned. As I said I used to play two small roles in it. Syyad Bhanda’s character left me with hardly any lines. My job then was to portray the character through his body language. This kind of detailing is obviously not there in the script. You have to read into the finer aspects of the script to come to an understanding of say, the physicality of the character. I used to twitch my eyebrows high and hold the look for the entire duration of the character because that’s one of the things I felt I needed to do. I used to further enhance the eyebrows with make-up. My eyes used to water but that look gave the character a kind of a stern, dangerous appearance. Sayyad Bhanda after all was also a very powerful man who could wield weapons like the dandpatta easily. I had to do something since the character was almost static. It meant a lot of practice to hold the appearance but it helped. People liked the character. This is one of the things that an actor must search for in the script. It is not necessary that you will get it each time but some imagination definitely helps.

This leads me to a related question. How do you practice your actor’s craft? The rehearsals are there of course but do you do any exercises by yourself?
I am very aalsi (lazy). And I don’t really do much but one thing that I do is that I keep watching people. I don’t like to imitate people. It is like going for an orchestra performance. You hear the same music. But I like to observe. I maintain a diary. Whenever I see a person who has caught my interest, I write about him. I try and analyze his psychology, his nature. I think about things like what his name could be, which region does he belong to, what kind of relationship he must have with his wife? What must be his temperament?

You mean to say that you have been going through this detailed kind of written analysis for all these years.
Yes. At least for the last 12 or 13 years I can say that I have been regularly doing this. It’s the only thing I do.

That’s a big exercise in itself. It’s like creating small, imagined biographies. So you have all these records at home?
Yes. I have eight or ten pages on each character that has caught my fancy. I don’t know if it has helped me or not…

Sure it must have. Because there is nothing like observation. Every actor must be capable of it.
I think I also started writing my observations because I have a habit of forgetting things.

As an actor, how do you view the director’s role in the theatre?
As far as I am concerned, I am a director’s actor. I think a director enforces discipline in the actor. I have come across very few directors who are not capable of reaching out to the actors. An actor must get a good director. That according to me is one of the basic requirements. Theatre becomes an actor’s medium when the performance starts. Before that it is the director who moulds it. A director comes with a conviction, a vision. If that is missing, it doesn’t help the actor’s performance. Again an actor without the director’s guidance can become monotonous and indulgent. A director from the outside is able to see what is happening and can correct it accordingly.

What are the first few things you do to prepare your character when you agree to take it on?
I read the script at least twenty times if not more, whether I understand it or not. In this manner a thought process begins. You begin to understand your character. Later you try and bring in a body language. And so it begins…

*The above interview has been conducted by Deepa Punjani, Editor of this site, a theatre critic and an academic keenly interested in Theatre and Performance Studies.

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