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A performer for all seasons

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Noted Goan singer-actor of the Marathi musical stage, Ramdas Kamat completes 90 years today. NT BUZZ revisits the life and times of this performer who has enthralled the audience with his voice and acting for the past six decades

RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT BUZZ

The very mention of Ramdas Kamat transports a person well-versed with the history of Marathi stage, to the world of Marathi musical plays when these productions constituted an integral part of the Maharashtrian as well as the Goan culture. Born in Goa, Kamat, a singing actor was a top draw on the Marathi stage, during the 1960s and the 1970s. He virtually ruled the stage during this period.

Ramdas Kamat belonged to the Kamat family from Sankhali. His father sang bhajans during the regular palanquin procession of Shri Dattatreya, the village deity, while his mother recited the traditional ‘Ovya’ at home while crushing wheat and rice to flour on the grinding stone. As a child he took lessons in Hindustani classical music from his elder brother, Upendra. During his childhood, some villagers decided to perform the Marathi historical drama, ‘Bebandshahi’ and even added a dash of some songs to it. Kamat was given a miniscule role in this drama and was asked to perform with two songs and five dialogues as his share on the stage. He later moved to Panaji for further education and was admitted to People’s High School.

After his matriculation examination, Kamat arrived in Mumbai at his uncle’s place – Vaikunth Neurekar – for higher education. In Mumbai, Kamat completed his graduation in Economics from the Wilson College. He tried to make a debut on Marathi stage but was not successful as he used to speak Marathi with a Konkani tone. Finally, he approached V L Kulkarni, the professor of Marathi language in his college, and learned the nuances of spoken Marathi language.

During the mid-1950s, Kamat came in contact with the members of the cultural wing of The Goa Hindu Association, an organisation set up by eminent Goans residing in Mumbai, when he was recommended to them by an eminent Goan writer, J S Sukhatankar. Fortunately for Kamat, Sukhatankar had heard him singing Konkani songs written by the Goan poet, Uday Bhembre, for a LP record brought out by the HMV. Around this time, The Goa Hindu Association was actively participating in the newly started annual state level drama competition, and consecutively winning top prizes. Kamat was offered a small role in the stage musical, ‘Samshaykallol’, but refused it due to the length of the same. However, he then followed the advice from his brother and decided to go ahead with the role. The minor role of a hermit opportunely had a song linked to it, ‘Hridayi Dhara ha Bodh Khara’. Kamat sang the song so well that he received an ovation from the audience.

After ‘Samshaykallol’, Kamat acted in a few other old classical musical plays like ‘Sharada’, which were the entries of The Goa Hindu Association to this competition. The association soon selected Kamat to play the lead role of sage Parashar in its maiden ambitious stage production, ‘Matsyagandha’ written by Vasant Kanetkar and directed by another Goan, Master Dattaram. Kamat starred with Ashalata Wabgaonkar – who played the title role in the production – in this 1964 musical drama based on few incidents from the epic, Mahabharata. His songs like ‘Devagharache Nyat Kunala’, ‘Saad Deti Himashikhare’, ‘Guntata Hriday He’ and ‘Nako Visaru Sanket Milanacha’ catapulted Kamat to the big league of Marathi stage performers.

From 1953 to 1960, Kamat worked at the Mumbai office of the Accountant General of the central government. In 1960, he found a job with Air India, and then followed a twin career, wherein he would be an office executive from morning to evening and a theatre personality from evening to morning.

After ‘Matsyagandha’, Kamat was flooded with offers and acted in new stage musicals like ‘Madanachi Manjiri’, ‘Yayati ani Devyani’, ‘He Bandh Reshamache’. and ‘‘Meera… Madhura!’ At the same time, Kamat’s performances in old classical stage musicals such as ‘Saubhadra’, ‘Manapman’, ‘Honaji Bala’ and ‘Ekach Pyala’ were appreciated by theatre lovers. He also enacted the role of Tansen, the iconic court singer in the service of Mughal emperor Akbar, in the 1968 stage musical ‘Dhanya te Gayani Kala’, which was incidentally written by a Goan, Gopalkrishna Bhobe. The songs in this production – ‘Daan Kari Re’, ‘He Karunakara Ishwara’ and ‘Chiranjeev Raho’ – composed by Bhimsen Joshi and sung by Kamat are precious gems in the treasure of natyasangeet, the Marathi stage music.

During his tryst with the Marathi musical stage, Kamat learned natyasangeet from Govindrao Agni. He also received important inputs from Jitendra Abhisheki, Bhalchandra Pendharkar and Bhimsen Joshi.

During the 1970s, Kamat ventured into playback singing in Marathi films and carved a niche for himself. The bhavgeets sung by him like ‘Ambaratalya Nillya Ghanachi Shapath Tula’, ‘He Aadima, He Antima’ and ‘Sakhi Saanj Ugavali’ also became very popular.

Kamat received many honours during his career right from the Vishnudas Bhave Puraskar, for his contribution to Marathi theatre to the Sangeet Natak Academy award bestowed on him by the then President, Pranab Mukherjee.

The singing actor retained his deep, rich voice and sang at the public concerts till the age of 87. The progressing age has however now forced him into retirement. Kamat nevertheless has become a part of the rich cultural legacy of Marathi stage musicals, with his songs, his performances and his plays achieving a cult status.

Kamat-Bhembre compositions

Ramdas Kamat sang two Konkani songs written by Uday Bhembre namely ‘Mand Varyar Darya Lharar, Goyam Tuzi Yaad Yeta’ and ‘Surya Gela Poltadi… Chandr Altadi’ for a LP record brought out by HMV during the 1950s. The songs not only became popular but facilitated Kamat’s entry into the world of Marathi stage.

Bhembre remembers that the renowned flutist from Goa, Shridhar Kenkre who worked with the HMV had arranged music for two songs – one ‘Channyache Rati’ written by him and another ‘Goemchya Mhajya Goemkarano’ written by ManoharRai Sardesai – both sung by Ulhas Buyao. “When the two-song disc became a big success, Kenkre gave a proposal to HMV for bringing out an LP record with eight Konkani songs,” says Bhembre, adding that six songs in this record including ‘Kazarache Utor Tuka Dita’ and ‘Mogan Pishein Jalaan Koshein’ were to be sung by Ashalata, while two of his songs, ‘Mand Varyar Darya Lharar, Goyam Tuzi Yaad Yeta’ and ‘Surya Gela Poltadi… Chandr Altadi’ were to be recorded in the voice of Kamat.

“At that time, I was in Mumbai studying law, and as per the request of Kenkre handed him my two songs, which did not include ‘Mand Varyar Darya Lharar, Goyam Tuzi Yaad Yeta’,” Bhembre recalls, adding that when he met Kamat, the singer told him how much he respected Laxmikant Bhembre, father of the poet. Laxmikant Bhembre was a freedom fighter and was imprisonment in exile in Portugal, during the 1950s by the colonial government, where he was deported from Goa.

“Kamat requested me to write a Konkani song for the proposed LP record, on the lines of the Marathi song, ‘Sagara Pran Talamalala’ as written by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar,” states Bhembre, pointing out that he however was apprehensive to do so, as neither had he gone through Savarkar’s experiences, nor did he have the luminosity of Savarkar.

Nevertheless, Bhembre agreed to Kamat’s request and came out with the stunning lyrics, ‘Mand Varyar Darya Lharar, Goyam Tuzi Yaad Yeta’, a song that reflected Kamat’s as well as Bhembre’s longing for their motherland, Goa.

Playback singing

Ramdas Kamat tried playback singing in few Marathi films. Most of these movie songs like ‘Hey Shivshankar Girija Tanaya’ (‘Thapadya’) and ‘Hey Gananayak Siddhivinayak’ (‘Patla Tar Vhay Mhana’) became popular and are fondly heard even to this day. ‘Pratham Tuj Pahata’, a semi-classical song he sang for the 1970 Marathi film, ‘Mumbaicha Jawai’ was filmed on the actor Arun Sarnaik and is an enchanting composition. Kamat remembers the recording of this song as nothing less than a miracle. According to Kamat, the music director of the particular film, Sudhir Phadke called him on telephone with the message that the song is to be recorded on a particular Sunday. Kamat had a Saturday night concert at Barshi, in Solapur District of Maharashtra, and therefore expressed his inability to be there. Phadke however was adamant and wanted Kamat to somehow record the song. Finally, the singer relented and decided to return to Mumbai Saturday night itself, after the concert. Unfortunately, Kamat had no reservation and had to travel facing great inconvenience. By the time he reached Mumbai, his voice had turned hoarse. When he went to the recording studio, legendary instrumentalists such as Vasant Acharekar (tabla), Ram Narayan (sarangi) and Prabhakar Pednekar (organ) were ready to accompany him. Kamat requested Phadke to postpone the recording but there was a technical hitch. The recorded song had to be sent to Kolhapur the same night as it was supposed to be shot the next day, at a Kolhapur-based film studio. Finally, Kamat did some vocal exercises and managed to regain his voice. The song was recorded and was filmed on Sarnaik as per the schedule. The song composed in Raag Kalavati turned out to be the highlight of the film and broke all popularity records.

The show must go on

Ramdas Kamat firmly believed in the phrase often followed in show business – ‘The show must go on’. ‘Matsyagandha’ was the first musical play of Kamat on the professional stage, which touched dizzying heights with the actor receiving encores from the audience for his songs. When the 50th show of the play was scheduled to take place, Kamat’s mother passed away. He however did not cancel the show and performed on the stage that night. The multifaceted personality from Maharashtra, P L Deshpande, who was the chief guest for the particular show was stunned and in his speech on the occasion said that the Marathi stage is ruled by idols and not idle persons. After some years, Kamat was to perform in another show when his father’s health turned serious and he had to rush home with his make-up on, to see his father. Soon he returned to the theatre and performed while his father passed away. Many years later, Kamat went to perform in a concert organised by The Goa Hindu Association, even though his wife was ailing. After the concert he rushed home. Few hours later his wife was no more. Kamat braved through many unfavourable situations in his life, and never compromised on his loyalty to the stage.