Sunil Barve Interview
The chocolate hero of Marathi showbiz has another identity. Sunil Barve is also as an ace producer. He shot to fame when he produced 'Herbarium' - a bouquet of five landmark Marathi plays - HAMIDABAICHI KOTHI, SURYACHI PILLE, ZOPI GELELA JAGA ZALA, LAHANPAN DEGA DEVA and ANDHAL DALTAY under his banner ''Subak'' (Sunil Barve Kalakruti). That was in 2010 when he celebrated the silver jubilee of his career with these revived plays that ran to full houses in their limited run of 25 shows each. On heavy public demand, Barve is back with 'Herbarium 2' - five more legendary Marathi plays that will have only 25 shows each. The first play, PATI GELE GA KATHEWADI opened last week. And the audience is lapping up his offering, yet again.

 By Deepa Karmalkar


Deepa Karmalkar (DK): Your last outing at the theatre with 'Herbarium' was seven years ago. Despite the record- breaking success of that venture, what took you so long to return with its sequel?

Sunil Barve (SR): There were incessant queries from the audience about the next chapter of Herbarium. I was looking for a good theme. I thought about doing 'Sangeet Natak'. Then I probed the possibility of staging the winning plays from the State Level DKama Competition. But then nothing was falling into place. After all, everything depends on the audience and gauging by their response, I knew they wanted Herbarium 2 that would bring back classic plays. The first edition included plays that were not big hits but they were still well known plays that did very well - the milestones of Marathi theatre. Herbarium 2 runs on the same principle.

DK: What is your rationale behind choosing PATI GELE GA KATHEWADI as the opening play of the second chapter of Herbarium?

SB: As I told you earlier, the goal was to bring to fore the lesser-known but powerful Marathi playwrights. People keep staging P L Deshpande and Vijay Tendulkar's plays. It's high time to showcase writers like Vyankatesh Madgulkar. His PATI GELE GA KATHEWADI is a light comedy based on a folk-ish story, which was enacted by great actors like Datta Bhat and Arvind Deshpande.

DK: You like to play your cards close to your chest! Aren't you going to reveal the names of the rest of the four plays included in Herbarium 2?

SB: Really, it depends on my directors. I have the same set of five directors this time too. ChanDKakant Kulkarni, Mangesh Kadam, Pratima Kulkarni, Kedar Shinde and Vijay Kenkre. They pick the plays they want to recreate.

DK: Such suspense! Is that a deliberate marketing gimmick?

SB: Honestly, the confidentiality is from a business point of view. Many old plays that were recorded earlier get televised diluting the appeal of our productions.

DK: Are you modifying the plays to suit the times? Or are you sticking to the original scripts?

SB: Since the aim of Herbarium 2 is mainly to recreate classic Marathi plays, our attempt is neither to contemporarise nor edit them. Only some edits become inevitable such as sunDKy characters like the postman. Back then the production houses worked like companies where actors worked on payroll. We have DKopped such redundant characters. Barring that the soul of the play is left untouched.

DK: On what level do these classics work for the actors and the audience?

SB: For the younger lot of actors these plays are a great exercise in learning the craft used to devise such appealing plays. The long, stylised dialogue makes for an enriching literary lesson. Although it's become trendy to use casual lines in plays these days, I believe that the flowery DKamatic lines also have their own charm. I have seen that stylised dialogue is retained in West End and Broadway theatre as well. As for the audience, it's like reliving a classic, finding out the nuances and punches that made it popular.

DK: Last time you had referred to the sad state of infrastructure in interior Maharashtra. Has the scene changed over the years?

SB: We have to restrict our shows to only about 10 outside Mumbai owing to lack of infrastructure. It's still a problem. Also in places like Nasik, Kalidas theatre is not available as it is under renovation. I remember I had approached many theatres to allow me to deploy my housekeeping agency to keep the washrooms clean. They didn't let me do so, but they keep the toilets clean during my shows. For the audience, it is a visit to the Natya Mandir – they are entitled to using a clean washroom as much as they are entitled to watch a good play.

DK: How has the Marathi audience evolved over the years?

SB: The audience is no longer naïve or innocent, so plays like LAHANPAN DEGA DEVA in which a total stranger barges into the household and takes control of the household, like the Hindi movie Bawarchi, is not able to overwhelm them. The age of innocence is over!

DK: Will you be busy backstage counting the money this time as well?

SB: Last time I was forced to play a part in LAHANPAN DEGA DEVA, but I would rather concentrate on managing the production. I earned greater acclaim as a producer within a couple of years as compared to being an actor over three decades.

DK: You got away with a ticket price hike of Rs 300 from the average Rs 150 but people thronged to see your shows. Do you propose to jack up the ticket rates with Herbarium 2 too?

SB: In 2010, to put up only 25 shows of each play and make it economically viable, I had to hike the ticket rates. Now seven years later, the pricing structure has changed completely – the tickets priced Rs 500 will cost you Rs 590 with GST. For a live show charged with emotive energy and acting prowess – you will have to pay a premium.

DK: India is digital. Why doesn't ''Subak''? None of the five plays from the first edition of Herbarium are available online.

SB: I have recorded all the plays for archival purpose. The memories of those performances are with me. But owing to copyright act I cannot put them online.

DK: You produced a contemporary play between the two seasons of Herbarium. Tell us about it.

SB: It is a youth oriented play called AMAR PHOTO STUDIO, directed by Nipun Dharmadhikari, featuring Amey Wagh, Suvrat Joshi, Sakhi Gokhale, Pooja Thombare, and Siddhesh Purkar.

DK: How about making a neat musical showcasing of the rich heritage of Marathi culture?

SB: Please watch, NRUTYA SAJEEV GEET RAMAYAN that our group has co-produced with Ramesh Deo Productions. This dance and music bonanza revives the glorious lyrics by Ga Di Madgulkar and singing by Sudhir Phadke. You will witness 60 musicians, singers and dancers performing live on stage.

DK: With so much on your plate, can you still find the time to act?

SB: I play the central role in Mahesh Manjrekar's upcoming film, Wada. Also my serial , Lek Majhi Ladki is running currently on Star Pravah.

DK: When are your children joining Subak?

SB: My daughter Sanika is an interaction designer and my son Atharva is a visual communicator. Both are in artistic fields. I am waiting for them to join me whenever they are ready.

*Deepa Karmalkar is a film and theatre reviewer. She has been an entertainment journalist for over fifteen years.

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