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A chit chat with Dilip Prabhawalkar

By: Screen Weekly, IndiaFM
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
He is a renowned and respected name in the Marathi film industry. His acts in Marathi films like Chimanrao Gundyabhau, Chaukat Raja, Sarkarnama and Ratra Aarambh have won him immense critical acclaim. He has been performing since the past three decades on stage, in Marathi movies and even in Hindi films. But after playing Mahatma Gandhi in Lagey Raho Munnabhai, Dilip Prabhavalkar has become a household name. Here he speaks about playing Gandhi and more...

Have you played Gandhi earlier either on stage or in a film?
Never, I have played several characters in my life but never that of Mahatma Gandhi. I am not exactly physically suited for the role I am much taller and my complexion is also fairer. I never expected to be offered the role of Gandhi, the father of the nation.

What was director Rajkumar Hirani's criterion for casting you as our beloved Bapu?
Hirani had watched my TV show Chimanrao back home in Nagpur. When I was called for the first audition of Lage Raho Munnabhai, I thought it may be for one of the old-age home members. I wasn't prepared at all to be screen-tested as Gandhi. After putting on the get-up and make-up, I just posed and conjured up Gandhi-like gestures from my imagination. I tried to bring in a child-like innocence and humour. I must thank Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra for having faith in me. I heard later that many great and good actors of the caliber of Naseeruddin Shah were singled out for the role.

Was this role physically or emotionally more challenging?
It was the most challenging role of my life! It is no mean task to play the father of the nation. He was no ordinary man and I had to be very careful all through. I could execute it well only under the guidance of Hirani. The strength and impact of the role was in the way he had conceived the sequences.

The make-up took three hours each time - with false nose, ears and the latex prosthetics to get the wrinkles and then the whole body had to be painted to get that tanned brown look. Vidyadhar Bhatte, the make-up man deserves a big shaabaasi!

How did you prepare yourself for the role?
I read up plenty of literature on Gandhi, watched the grainy B&W footage from the Films Division documentaries depicting his visit to England for the Round Table Conference. I paid special attention to his speech and diction; I always interpret my characters through their vocal tenors. Bapu had a high-pitched, monotonous manner of speech, and he had a Gujarati accent. But I haven't exactly stuck to it; I have improvised within permissible parameters.

To what would you attribute the big success of Bapu and Gandhigiri among the young as well as the old?
What makes Bapu work in Lage Raho... is that he isn't serious or preachy, he matches up the tempo of Munna and Circuit's bubbling humour. His eyes sparkle with mischief and he teases Munna and gets amused with his dadagiri. He becomes a part of the scene. And thus he endears himself to one and all.

Now for some criticism: wasn't the make-up too dark for Gandhi?
Is Gandhi's appearance in the film is in person or is it his image? Perhaps it is blending in both and so Gandhi appears darker in the film. Secondly, since all the films of those times are B&W, we have no real reference-point other than historian Louise Fischer's reference to his complexion being chocolate-brown. But still that is not very precise.

Why didn't Bapu answer the three crucial questions in the press conference much to the embarassment of Munna?
I haven't discussed it with Hirani, but my reading is that like the psychiatrist had pointed out in the film, Gandhi is the voice of Munna's conscience and so how can he answer questions that Munna has not read up?

You have waged some Gandhigiri off-screen, by mobilising the anti-piracy bureau against the pirated VCD being played in the Pune-bound bus in which you were traveling.
I was shocked to see such a mutilated pirated version of the film being shown - it amounted to murder of creativity of all those involved in making of the film. I really didn't think it would end up in such a media circus, I just called up Vinod Chopra's office and they took care of the rest of the things.

Aren't you afraid of getting typecast as Bapu hereon?
Given a choice, I wouldn't play Gandhi again. I never played Chimanrao ever again, I had a zillion offers to repeat the get-up.

Shiva depicts you as the menacing Home Minister. From Gandhigiri to villainy, how do you manage to switch roles so effectively?
I shot simultaneously for both the films and the only thing common between the two was the hairstyle - the bald pate! I promoted non-violence through one and perpetrated crime through the other. As an actor, I cannot afford to get involved with the character, I just play the part, I do not become the part.

Which are your films to come?
There are some Marathi films and then there is Neeraj Vora's Familywalla.

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