Man, woman and the actor

“If a man’s focus about woman is not clear then she tends to create immense trouble for a man, even if that woman comes to him in the form of a role,” said the popular theatre, television and film actor, Subodh Bhave, known for his highly successful enactment of the legendary actor/singer of Marathi musical stage, Balgandharva, in the Marathi film ‘Balgandharva’.

Interacting during a monthly programme, ‘Gappa Goshti’ held at Kala Academy, Subodh said that the entire process of how he got to play the role of ‘Balgandharva’, who had expertise in performing the role of female characters during the first half of the 20th century, a time when no woman dared set foot on stage, is nothing short of a miracle.
“To begin with even though I am a theatre person, who has made a career in acting, I detested Marathi stage musical dramas and also Indian classical music,” the popular actor added, pointing out that once while compering a musical reality show with singer Bela Shende for Sahyadri television channel of Doordarshan he got to hear a number of Marathi songs from participants, which he had never heard before. “And then I was involved in a musical programme, ‘Maiter’ with personalities from the world of music like Avdhut Gupte, Devki Pandit, Shaunak Abhisheki, Salil Kulkarni and so on, which changed my entire perception about such music,” he admitted.
Speaking further Subodh said that in such a musical environment he received an offer to direct the highly successful Marathi musical play of the 1960s - ‘Katyar Kalzhat Ghusli’ and during its rehearsals stretching over months he developed an ear for quality music. “Then I left for Konkan to shoot for the Marathi film ‘Haapus’ and during this period, was handed a book titled ‘Gandharvagatha’, a biography of Balgandharva by actor Mrunal Deshpande,” the noted actor mentioned, informing that he read it in one sitting, and on finishing the book announced to his co-actor, Makarand Anaspure that he was doing a biopic based on the book. “I was actually disturbed by the fairytale kind of life led by the legendary actor,” he maintained.
“Then I approached a television channel and got it agree to buy the film, about which I had no plans,” Subodh observed, stating that he shortlisted actors like Sunil Barve and Prasad Oak for the title role. “And then I decided to audition in the woman’s get up as Balgandharva, the photographic result of which made me seriously think that I could play Balgandharva,” the actor said, pointing out that the final step was to find a producer, for which he approached, Nitin Desai, who was supposed to do period sets for the film. “One look at my photographs in woman’s attire, my concept note about the film, and my eyes, was enough for Nitin to ask me when to start the shooting of the film,” he informed.
“And then the whole process of my transformation began, wherein I had to reduce 22 kilos in two months with the help of strenuous exercises, continue reading books on Balgandharva, and also try to finish various television serials then in my hand,” Subodh said, adding that he was, however, not getting to the core of the role, especially when dressed up as women. “Then I started closely observing each and every woman, fortunately without getting beaten up by them. I would also think over the role day and night,” he mentioned, informing that during this time he also had the fortune of obtaining a rare, 6-minute footage of Balgandharva enacting the role of the leading actress in the musical drama ‘Amritsiddhi’ from a diehard fan of the legendary actor, Mr Chitle.
“Finally, the day to give my first shot as a woman arrived and I went through three-and-a-half hour make up, donned a 27-meter-long, seven kg saree, which took one-and-a-half hour to pin up around my body, and then wore ` 3 crore worth gold ornaments weighing several kilos; the ear rings were tearing at my ear lobes,” Subodh recalled, stating that just while going to the set from the make-up room it dawned on him that he should not approach the role of a woman as a man and instead think that he is a woman while performing. “And then naturally I would not have to act, as I would be approaching the role as a woman,” he observed.
“I am certain that no one understood women as much as Balgandharva did,” Subodh maintained, stating that he subsequently received a number of offers to play women yet again in films during Gokulashtami and even at a political rally. “But I know very well where that would take my acting carrier,” he said pointing out that the audiences would now never ever see him enacting the role of a woman in any medium – stage, television, films – or outside it.