Thursday , 14 June 2018

Golden memories of the musical ‘Katyar’

Exactly fifty years ago, three Goans – visionary producer of plays/ theatre producer, Prabhakar Panshikar; extraordinarily talented music composer, Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki; and immensely popular singer-actor, Pandit Prasad Sawkar – came together and created a Marathi stage musical, ‘Katyar Kaljat Ghusali’, which went on to become a milestone in the annals of Marathi stage history. Speaking to NT Network, PANDIT PRASAD SAWKAR shares the memories about this play, which celebrates its golden jubilee, this year

“It was somewhere around mid-1966 that the playwright and stage director from Nagpur, Purushottam Darvhekar came to meet me at the recording studio of His Master’s Voice (HMV), in Bombay, where I was invited to record two songs from the Marathi play, ‘Lagnachi Bedi’(Shackles of Marriage) written by the legendary Acharya Pralhad Keshav Atre,” the Octogenarian stage singer-actor, Pandit Prasad Sawkar recalled while narrating how he was introduced to ‘Katyar Kaljat Ghusali’ (Dagger pierced the heart), the play that went on to become a landmark production on the Marathi musical stage. Further pointing out, he said: “In the meeting room of the HMV, Darvhekar, who by then had not written any musical play, told me that he is planning to write one based on the legend of Mohammed Hussain, and wanted me to enact the lead role of Khansaheb Aftab Hussain Bareliwale as I at that time, was performing the roles of classical singer in two stage musicals namely ‘Panditraj Jagannath’ and ‘Mandarmala’, which were running in packed houses.”

Incidentally, the legend of Mohammed Hussain was already used by another playwright, Vidyadhar Gokhale in his 1963 play, ‘Mandarmala’. Hussain was the court musician in the princely state of Gwalior and was very secretive about his music, so much so that he used to do his riyaaz, the regular practice, in a well guarded place. Two other singers, Haddu Khan and Hassu Khan, who were brothers and aspired to become the court musicians by defeating Hussain, at the annual royal singing contest, bribed the guards and started clandestinely studying Husain’s singing style during his riyaaz. On the day of the contest, when the two brothers started challenging Hussain with his own style of singing, Hussain became alert and requested them to present the lung-pulverising musical device known as the ‘Kadak Bijli taan’, an extremely arduous type of singing method. Hassu Khan did so, but Hussain asked him to repeat it. Unfortunately Hassu Khan did not know that immediate repetition of the particular taan puts intense pressure on the lungs, and hence got his lungs ruptured, resulting in his death.

Sharing the memories of ‘Katyar…’ days, Pandit Sawkar said that a year later, he got a call from ‘Natyasampada’, a stage production company owned by Prabhakar Panshikar, informing that it would be producing Darvhekar’s play and he was being offered the lead role. “I was also invited for the Satyanarayana puja, where the play was to be launched,” he stated, adding that by this time, Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki was also a part of the team to compose the songs, and coming from a temple priest family, he even recited Sanskrit invocation verses, before we read out a part of the new play.”

Interestingly, the noted actor and owner of the Lalitkaladarsh Drama Company, Bhalchandra Pendharkar requested Panshikar to present the première of ‘Katyar…’ at a special event to be held in December 1967, in commemoration of the 60th year of establishment of his drama company.

Speaking further, Pandit Sawkar said: “By mid-1967, most of the preparations including selection of the cast were completed, however we were yet to find an actor to play the role of Sadashiv. At this point, I agreed to play Sadashiv and suggested the name of Vasantrao Deshpande for the role of Khansaheb, as I felt he was apt for that character. In fact, when I was staying near the S P College, in Pune from 1947 to 1950, Vasantrao lived next to my residence. He also used to visit our building to teach music to a young boy, and many-a-times, I went to listen to him. Furthermore, he had stayed in Lahore for many years during the earlier part of the 1940s and had picked up Urdu beautifully. All these qualities made me recommend his name to Panshikar.”

“Ironically, I received poor response from Darvhekar on my recommendation, but Panshikar nevertheless approached Vasantrao, and all the drawbacks of Vasantrao according to Darvhekar, including his drawn out manner of speaking became the strengths of his character, so much so that ‘Katyar…’ became synonymous with Vasantrao and vice versa,” Pandit Sawkar observed: “And therefore, many people have an impression that this play was written specially with Vasantrao in mind.”

“When I finally decided to play Sadashiv, I was required to sing “Ghei Chhand Makarand”, which was written in the meter of the song “Rati Rangi Range Dhyan” from another play. Abhisheki too maintained the tune of the original. I then suggested that he try a raga from Carnatic music, which incidentally I had earlier sung on the radio – Salag Warali – to tune this song,” Pandit Sawkar recalled, further adding: “And then there was another song for me, “Muralidhar Shyam” for which I had suggested Puriya Kalyan, but Abhisheki skillfully chose to tune it in Marwa Kalyan instead. Later, I recorded these two songs for HMV Company.”

Pandit Sawkar, speaking about the role of child Sadashiv, which was enacted by his son, Shekhar, stated that he picked up the basics of the role right from the beginning. “He had a very good voice, and knew exactly where the audiences would clap for him,” he informed, pointing out that Vasantrao had all praises for Shekhar’s acting and singing, and appreciated him all along.

“Any normal musical play requires a maximum of two months to get ready including its rehearsals, however we rehearsed for three months,” Pandit Sawkar informed, stating that the play also stood solid on the technical ground, using three revolving stages – one large, with two smaller ones on its either side – which was done for the first time in India. “Finally, when the first show of the play was presented before the audiences on December 24, 1967, at the Sahitya Sangh Mandir in Girgaum, it stretched to nearly five-and-a-half hours, including 30 to 45 minutes of speeches at the beginning, linked to the ‘Lalitkaladarsh’ function; the play however turned very engaging and people stayed till the very end,” he revealed, adding, “The producer nevertheless found it difficult to continue with such a long play and cut it short to three-and-a-half hours without harming the storyline, which unfortunately witnessed deletion of some of the best scenes as well as three songs from the play.”

“When the play completed 100 shows, it became difficult for me to give continuous dates for ‘Katyar…’ as I was simultaneously working in other plays too. I, at that time, was the lone actor on the Marathi musical stage, who was working with 7 to 8 famous drama companies. One day, as I returned home from a tour of another play, I noticed in the newspapers that I was replaced in ‘Katyar…’ by another actor, Atul alias Vidhyadhar Vyas. I was hurt that they did not even show the courtesy to inform me. And then I had even told Panshikar that I would provide him with a good replacement, and we two would enact the role of Sadashiv as per my availability,” Pandit Sawkar informed, “Besides this, I think another reason for replacing me with Atul could be my demand for an increase in my `150 ‘night’, the fee I used to receive per show. But then I feel that in spite of all the praises and all the audiences this play received, it was not a profit making production for Panshikar due to the exorbitant money spent on it, so much so that a special truck was needed to accompany our bus, carrying all the stage setting, during the tours of the play.”

“However, my relation with ‘Katyar…’ did not end here. It so happened, that Shankar Ghanekar, who played the role of poet Banke Bihari expired during a show of another drama in Konkan, and had to be replaced by Prakash Inamdar, who also left the play to join films. One day, while travelling in a bus, I met Faiyaz, who used to play the role of Khansaheb’s daughter, Zarina. She said that Panshikar wants me to enact the role of Banke Bihari. I didn’t react to the offer, went home and upon reading the script of the play, found that all the excellent dialogues written for that role, already existed in my memory,” Pandit Sawkar said, “I subsequently accepted the role and performed in much more shows then the shows in which I had acted as Sadashiv.”

‘Katyar…’ had the fortune of having illustrious personalities as its audiences ranging from Pandit Ravi Shankar to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and from music director, S D Burman to singer, Hemant Kumar. Director, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Music director, Madan Mohan and actor, Kanhaiyalal never missed a show when the play was staged anywhere in Mumbai, with Kanhaiyalal ending up watching more than 100 shows and was also felicitated by ‘Natyasampada’. The play never went out of circulation as long as Vasantrao stood up as Khansaheb, until his death in 1983.

“Interestingly, many people were of the firm opinion that ‘Katyar…’ would surely fail to attract the audiences; some of them even retorting that this play, from its name, appears to be written by the then popular detective novel writer, Baburao Arnalkar,” Pandit Sawkar said on a parting note, pointing out that only when it became clear that the tile of the play was inspired by the thumri, “Lagi Kalejva Katar” used in the play, were they satisfied with the ‘musical dagger’. “Nevertheless, it is impossible to predict the destiny of any play; some of them anticipated to be successes just withered away, while some like ‘Katyar Kaljat Ghusali’ created history even when they were expected to fail,” he concluded.

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