Rajul Diwan Interview with Jahnavi Pal
Actor, singer, dubbing artist and a producer as well. Rajul Diwan is a known face on Gujarati stage and is also recognized for his work in TV serials. With a voice that is unmatched he is often compared to Raza Murad who has the same baritone.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Having started his professional career as a backstage worker Rajul Diwan has come a long way. With over 40 years in the business Rajul is one of the finest singer-actors on Gujarati stage.

"I started work on stage in 1980. Acting always attracted me and I always wanted to act. As a young boy I used to accompany my parents to watch plays . In those days Kamlesh Daru who was from our community was a known face on stage. I would badger my father to introduce him to me but my dad always refused. He wanted me to first complete my education and only then could I think of pursuing this profession. Once I completed my graduation my parents allowed me to go meet Kamlesh Daru. I began going over to his house every alternate Sunday and asking him for work. Finally fed up of my constant visits he took me to Alexandra School where he was rehearsing for Kanti Madia's play. He introduced me to Madia and the first thing Madia said to me was, 'You will not get any role. If interested you can work backstage. If I find you worthy we will see later.' This was enough for me. To work backstage for Kanti Madia was good enough. So I started as a backstage worker with a play called KORI AANKHON NE BHEENE HAIYYA ."

And the journey began for Diwan. But he continued to work backstage for quite a long time. "Honey Chaaya who seen me work diligently on my first play soon asked me to do Rajendra Butala's SAATHIYA MA EK RANG OCHHO, again as a backstage worker. But the silver lining for me was that I got to make a small entry in this play and also had a one line dialogue. This was my debut. I was working with Nirlon in those days and would take leave for the performances of the play. It so happened that the second lead of the play opted out at the last minute as he couldn't get leave from office. As I was always present during the 25 performances I knew his lines and Honey Chaaya offered that role to me. I grabbed it with both hands.

"But work was tough as I was still working for Nirlon. I would complete my day's work in office and rush to the station to catch a train to Surat as very often we would perform there for 3-4 days at a stretch. I would rush from the station to the auditorium and after the show take a train back to Mumbai so that I could be in office in the morning. Though the office had given me a few liberties I decided to take VRS in 1995 and dedicate myself only to acting."

Diwan was now respected for his acting caliber and dedication and work started to come in. He was then offered to play the lead in a Rajendra Butala play titled SARTA SAPNA KHARTI PAANKHO with Bhairavi Shah opposite him. The play also had the respected actor Vishnukumar Vyas in an important role. The play written by Varsha Adalja did well and now there was no looking back. I was by now also doing good work on the small screen and had now established myself as a dubbing artist as well. I did a lot of plays with Feroze Bhagat in those days and then came some good work in TV serials. This gave me recognition. In fact when they re-launched FILMI CHAKKAR I played the role Vijay Kashyap played earlier and this gave me a leg up in the industry. This led to SAILAAB which also gave me good exposure. My dubbing work went on parallelly."

Diwan says that as an actor he got the greatest satisfaction in Manoj Shah's MAREEZ. "I played three different roles in this play. I played Mareez's father, his brother and Chandrashekhar Thakur. I enjoyed playing all these three characters. Yet another play that gave me great satisfaction was MEGHANI SARVANI where I play six different roles. The play has Utkarsh Mazumdar in a lead role. It is a musical and I enjoy doing musicals."

Diwan is not a trained singer and owes his musical sense to his father. "My father played several musical instruments and had an ear for music. I have imbibed this from him. In fact in the 80s I had my own orchestra group in which I sang and played the rhythm.

"In fact, though I did a replacement in the musical MASTER PHULMANI I thoroughly enjoyed it. Strangely all the plays that I performed at Prithvi Theatre began with the letter 'M'- MAREEZ, MEGHANI, MASTER BUILDER, MIRANDE."

Going back to his theatre journey Diwan shares a humorous incident. "I was doing a play called KALANK with Bhairavi Shah and Arvind Vekaria. The play also had a girl who was a South Indian but spoke good Gujarati. She was playing the role of a call girl and I was a police inspector. In one scene where I go in search of her paramour called Abdul all she had to do was hug me and tell me to forget Abdul. In between Abdul was to make his entry which he forgot. Since she didn't know how to improvise in Gujarati she kept repeating her line. The door from where Abdul was to make his entry was bolted from outside and I too couldn't get out. I used my presence of mind to get out of this situation by banging on the door and saying this was her ploy to lock me in. I have learned this important lesson of remaining calm and take quick action when needed from Kanti Madia and this has helped me several times on stage. "

In 2007 Diwan launched his own production house called Ultima Events. "It was at Hetal Joshi's insistence that I launched ultima events." He started out with a musical called ANTAR YATRA, which was written by Hiten Anandpara and Mukesh Joshi. It was their first play as well. Unfortunately the play did not do well. He began directing plays under his banner. He says plays like BAPU TAMHE TO BADHA NA BAAP CHHO, TU ANE HU, MASTI NE JOOVO CHASHMA THI remain his favourite.

He says his favourite co-actors remain Jatin Kanakia and Siddarth Randeria. "I did three plays with Jatin and the on-stage rapport we shared was the best. I recall a scene in our play SAMAY SHAKUNI where he was to drag me across the stage with a belt but because he knew how to use property so well not once did he injure me. We shared a great relationship off stage too. As for Randeria he is a master at comedy and he is great with extempore stuff. This is a beautiful experience for his co-actors. I enjoy working with him."

Diwan rues the current situation with Gujarati theatre. "The sad part is that the younger generation doesn't come to watch Gujarati plays. And until now all that audiences wanted was only comedy. There are a few good plays but people do not have the courage to experiment with other genres. As the stakes are high not many want to risk their investment."

Diwan has kept himself busy in these lockdown days by narrating short stories in Hindi on his YouTube channel. He is also busy dubbing for Gujarati animation films.

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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