Vandana Gupte Interview
What an opportune moment to interview one of the stalwarts of Marathi stage. A celebrated name and a powerhouse of talent the vivacious Vandana Gupte has stepped into her 50th year on stage. And there is no better time than now to celebrate her. The exuberant actor in a free wheeling chat talks about what she loves the most- her journey on stage. Very forthright and candid Vandana in a no holds barred interview talks of her five decades on stage.

 By Jahnavi Pal

"Life for me began in 1970 with a play called PADMASHRI DHUNDIRAJ. It was an all -woman cast, where I played the mischievous and smart daughter. Though I never aspired to become a singer, it was my singing ability that got me a role in my maiden play, which was a musical. The first performance was for a show organized by the Goa Hindu Association as part of their 50th year celebrations. I was nervous and wanted to have a look at how many people were present in the auditorium. I peeped out of the curtain and seeing about 2000 people seated I wrapped myself in the curtain as the operator drewthe it. Seeing me wrapped up he pushed me on stage and that was my maiden entry. Slowly I gathered courage and played my part. The show was a hit and I received a good applause,"recalls Vandana .

And there was no looking back. "The journey was easy for me and though I was not trained in the craft I learnt by observing actors like Vijaya Mehta, Dr Sriram Lagoo, Datta Bhat, Madhav Watve, Madhukar Toradmal, Arvind Deshpande, Bhakti Barve, Arun Joglekar."

Elaborating on her career she says, "I did 58 plays in 50 years. I would do about 45 shows a month. But I would only do one play at a time. I did all genres of theatre- comedy, farcical, social dramas, experimental. But I enjoyed doing comedies the most. It's very difficult to make people laugh and for me anything that is challenging is enjoyable. Very few people are aware that I have done some Hindi plays with IPTA too and I also did play readings in English with Dolly Thakore. But the turning point in my life was with SONCHAPHA, a Marathi play written by Vasant Kanetkar. Until then I had only done comedies and in this one I played a mature role. I was only 23 then and it was a challenge doing this role. My fans loved me in this play and for me it was great satisfaction playing a different character."

Vandana goes on to talk of another career best, ZINJH. "Adapted from the novel, The Man, this play is very close to my heart. It was the role of a lifetime and I was thrilled when I got it. Though I must confess that initially the director was not sure if I would be able to carry it off. The central character called Rakhma is a street cleaner who is very verbal, uses foul language and has a distinct style of dressing. I had never observed any such person at close quarters so I went to a housing colony of street cleaners and lived in one of their homes for a day and a half. I observed her body language, her dressing style , her speaking style and mannerisms. It was after this that Madhukar Toradmal who was the director and the protagonist agreed to give me the role. I got an award for this role and critics too gave me very good reviews. In fact once it so happened that a few fans were waiting to meet me after the show and after I took off my make-up and dressed in my casual clothes they didn't recognize me. This was a great moment for me as I felt I had done justice to my role."

SAATVA MULICHI SAATVI MULGI, written by Ashok Patole was one of the few path breaking roles that Vandana played. A play that focused on witchcraft, it was a dream role for an actor. "This is the story of a lady who lives on Peddar road and practices witchcraft. It was a very difficult role and as Patole had researched very deeply on this subject it was a pleasure to play this character. I remember when Bhakti Barve came for one of the performances she asked me how I managed to look so real in this play. This was one the best compliments I have received ."

Sharing her personal life the bubbly actor says, "I have been so busy with work that I have had no time to think. I am very energetic and am great with time management. I never feel lethargic and am on a roll 24x7. Fortunately I never had the compulsion to go out and work as I never worked due to financial restraints. My husband is a senior counsel and therefore I have the liberty to choose the kind of work I wish to do. My son is a computer engineer from Purdue University and my daughter who worked for British Airways and then as HR of an oil company in Scotland is now in Trinidad. In fact when they were very young I would often take them on my tours so that they would know what I did. I recall when I was touring with my play AKHERCHA SAVALfor 14 days my daughter was only three-and-a-half months old. I was very upset that I had to leave her behind as she was an infant so I had taken a recording of her cooing. And each time I would listen to this I would start crying. And so would Vijaya Mehta and Daya Dongre who too would remember their kids. I did this play when I was six months pregnant but took a break when my baby bump started showing after five months."

Vandana shares the interesting play titled GAGANVEDI, written by Vasant Kanetkar which was based on four of Shakespeare's works. "This was with Madhukar Toradmal and Ashvini Bhave. Madhukar played King Lear and I was his wife. We performed the first show in 1986 in London to a packed house. I was very happy with this play as it gave me a chance to push my boundaries as the play had many soliloquies. And if this gave me a lot of joy performing it so did SUNDER MI HONAR, a play written by P.L. Deshpande. Five of his plays were performed when he turned 75 and though al five were offered to me I chose this one. A story of hope and liberation it was based on the play THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET. Dr Lagoo played the family doctor cum guardian of my siblings and me. It was a very well written character and for me this is not a play but poetry."

Vandana says she can go on and on about her roles in landmark plays since she has so many to her credit. CHAR CHAUGHI written by Prashant Dalvi a play where she played an unwed mother. "I am amazed at the sensitivity of the writer as this play explores the levels of emotion of an unwed mother and Prashant who was only 25 then surprised me with his deep understanding of the character. And when I am taking this walk down memory lane how can I forget WADA CHIREBANDI, which was directed by my favourite director Chandrakant Kulkarni? This play focused on a rural family and I rehearsed for this for 100 days as it required me to speak in a rural dialect. These are three different plays based on the same family and I was in two out of the three plays. My co-actors were Deepa Lagoo, Sachin Khedekar, Dilip Kulkarni ."

But the feather in her crowded cap is PREMACHA GAAVI JAAVI, directed by Arvind Deshpande. "On Dec 31 , 1992 I did four different plays in one theatre (Shivaji Mandir) . After three shows the premier of my fourth play was slated for 1.30 am. Since there were a few hours in between I went for a 31st night party too and returned to perform the comedy, PREMACHA GAAVI JAAVI, which went on to be a super hit play. This was a record of sorts for me to perform four plays in one auditorium. I have even written a play called TEE, which was based on the life of a girl from childhood to the time she becomes a grandmother. It was an audio-visual musical which had no break. My younger sister Rani manages all the singing and I do the narration. We did 275 shows but all overseas. I have had young girls married abroad coming backstage after the play with tears in their eyes as they identified with the girl in the play. "

Talking of the company called Sister Concerns which she launched with her sister Rani Vandana says, "We produced the film Family Katta under this banner which was a hit. I have even produced a serial on DD way back in the 80s called Predha Tirpit which had Tanuja acting in a Marathi serial for the first time. It also had the talented Mohan Joshi .
This year in memory of our late mother we three sisters (the other two being Bharati Achrekar and Rani Verma) we did a show on YouTube called Jeevan Gaane.

"Coming to my mother let me tell you I never ever wanted to be a singer after seeing her hard work. I was too laid back for the kind of riyaaz we saw her doing. Though I love classical music I could only sing the light hearted stuff like lavnis. Seeing her dedication to music I was not anywhere close to her. But she was one who encouraged all of us to follow our dreams. I am not a trained actor and have never even attended any workshops in my life. My school of learning as I said earlier was observing the greats of Marathi theatre."

Talking of her sabbatical from stage and the return to her first love Vandana says, "I was busy doing soaps for a long time. But I was frustrated with the kind of work I was doing on TV. I wanted to do a play in the 50th year of my career and I once again got a role worth talking about. And HARAVLELYA PATTAYANCHA BANGLAwas offered to me. A play that revolves around three women of different generations, and I play an overprotective mother. No roles of substance were being offered in Hindi films either. I am of the belief that instead of doing inconsequential stuff in HIndi films it's better to do what you love most which is acting on stage. And here I am enjoying myself on stage yet again."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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