Rajesh Deshpande Interview
Studying political science in college, did not stop Rajesh Deshpande from pursuing a career in theatre, TV and films as an actor, writer, lyricist and director. He has been prolific in all three media, and won several awards for his work. But theatre is what he loves best, having written and directed plays like AMHI ALO RE, KUMARI GANGUBAI MATRIC, KARUN GELO GAAV, EKA LAGNANANTARCHI GOSHT, SHREE BAI SAMARATH, HOTE KURUP VEDE to name just a few. “According to me, the gist of what drama is, cannot be summarized in a few words. But, let me try talking more from my experience. Drama is an art form full of life. If we are able to see the difference between what drama is vis a vis what movies are, we will be able to really appreciate the thought process of the writer. Drama is always what the writer thinks of.”

 By Neha Paranjpe

"The drama audience and the actors enacting the roles, they are usually tied with a silk string of emotions. Kavi Kusumagraj in a couple of his creations, in a very subtle way says, 'When the stage was opened, I was full of emotions from the audience in front but when the stage was shut post the third part of the drama, though I was empty handed, I was able to see myself in the hearts of the large set of people in the audience.' This is only possible with theatre and no other type of entertainment."

He believes that folk theatre is one of the most important aspects as far as the drama industry is concerned. "Within short span of time, a person can witness so many different shades of life. And for this, there is absolutely no need for a huge stage or props. For example, "Chal ga bai Mathurela, aiyya, Mathura aali pan," and the audience is right there at the location. This is so much real and fun to enact. For this, the audience actually believes that the actors or the play is taking them places. Like in this case, the audience will start imagining and seeing Mathura and the surrounding, so a play can transpors an audience to Mathura without any visual effects. This is where the skill of a writer comes in but it also gives the audience something to visualize, to think, to analyze, which in turn increases their knowledge levels. Unfortunately, because of the ease of access to internet and one click information gathering, the power of human mind to think, to visualize things is receding and that is where drama is absolutely a boon for audiences."

Deshpande believes that, right from the inception, Marathi theatre has been progressive. "For example, the first Marathi drama was SITA SWAYAMWAR by Vishnudas Bhave, the storyline was so progressive and forward looking. It said, Ravana was in love with Sita and his sister Shurpanakha was in love with Ram. To achieve their goals, Ravana took Lord Ram's avatar and Shurpanakha took Sita's avatar. Unfortunately, they both were unaware of this and fell in love with each other. So, effectively, brother and sister fell in love with each other. This thought was so much progressive as far as the timeline it was dramatized. If we have to talk about the current timeline, all of this is not acceptable. Even during the British era, there was a play called KICHAK VADH, which the British thought was brought in to malign their image. This was one of the reasons why the Censor Board was established that time, so as to curtail such thoughts being shown in the entertainment media. Such instances show that Marathi theatre and even up to some extent, Bengali theatre, both were progressive in nature.

"Unfortunately," he continues, "right now, the political and cultural environment is so murky that there is absolutely no independence to express one's thoughts and the same is true for Marathi theatre as well. Recent examples would be GHASHIRAM KOTWAL and MEE NATHURAM GODSE BOLTOY-- these two should have been considered as pure theatrical experiments. But they were linked politically. To add to this, just like other theatricals, Marathi drama has also become weekend entertainment. So, the reach of the same is reducing day by day. Gujarati theatres are running well with contractual shows. This makes their survival possible. Marathi drama was limited to mainly Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. But now slowly, it is expanding the horizon beyond these cities. Earlier, a couple of weeks in the Konkan area would guarantee the producer his money's worth. All that has now subsided. This is purely because of the TV daily soaps which have preoccupied the audiences' minds. This has complicated the situation for Marathi theatre and hence, it is now all the more necessary for the Marathi theatrical community to move towards grandeur.

"For very good shows like HIMALAYACHI SAWLI, or many others, there is a halt because of the corona restrictions. But according to me, Marathi theatre will experience major changes as compared to the way it used to function before the pandemic."

He thinks plays screened online is a temporary phase. "I think this is not going to go a long way. As soon as the restrictions are lifted, audiences would love to come to theatres and view live performances. There are many old and new dramas which have been recorded and put on YouTube for audiences. But they are no fun, according to me. Naseeruddin Shah had once said that media content or heavy graphical themes in plays should not be used as this is against the very nature of drama.

"Since, the audience is not in front of the stage or actor, they do not feel attached to the audience and hence the enthusiasm is bound to be lesser as compared to actual stage drama. So, if this is the way drama is being shown, it is no more a theatrical experience, it is more like a movie."

Deshpande likes to watch all kinds of plays, "Naming specific ones would be difficult but everyone should watch all possible plays, as they would be able to more aptly understand any mistakes and can carry those aspects and try and avoid them in their own performances. But if I really have to name a few which I have genuinely loved, those would be PURUSH, WADA CHIREBANDI, ZULWA, GHASHIRAM KOTWAL, and more recently, HIMALAYACHI SAWLI. In the humor genre, ALL THE BEST. There are some which did not do well at the box-office but they were very good."

He names Gadkari Rangayatan, Shivaji Mandir and Pune's Bal Gandharva. And directors like Atmaram Bhende, Waman Kendre, Devendra Pem, Vijaya Mehta, Chandrakant Kulkarni, Kedar Shinde as his "beloved directors."

Asked about a memorable incident in his theatre career, he recalls ALL THE BEST. "I used to play the blind person's role. I remember, there was a show in Gadkari Rangayatan, and while I was entering the stage, there was a small fumble which only we artistes could get. Bharat Jadhav started laughing and couldn't stay on the stage. I was left alone and I was perplexed as the audience had the whole script by heart. I was really in a no man's land. But the audience didn't react to it much as if nothing had happened and we continued the show."

Once theatres reopen after the lockdown, Deshpande would like to continue shows of HIMALAYCHI SAWLI. "There is a comedy genre play which the audience will love to watch, DHANANJAY MANE ITHECH RAHTAT. I have written one play Vijay Kenkre, who is going to direct the same. Additionally, through my own organization, I would be releasing another play called CHALO EK BAAR PHIR SE." Being a natak-kaar, I have to keep writing, acting, directing plays. That's my bread and butter in life."

Neha Paranjpe is an anchor, radio jockey and actor.

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