Date:15/09/2006 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/fr/2006/09/15/stories/2006091501400100.htm
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His moment under the sun!

ZIYA US SALAM

Unsung Dilip Prabhawalkar's life has changed after playing Mahatma Gandhi in the record-breaking film "Lage Raho Munna Bhai".


Since the film's release people have been calling up from New York, Dubai, Wellington. I have had people calling in the middle of the night. The response from the youngsters is encouraging.



CLAIM TO FAME Dilip Prabhawalkar as Bapu in Raj Kumar Hirani's "Lage Raho Munna Bhai"

It is not easy being Dilip Prabhawalkar. For more than three decades he has lived in relative obscurity, greater peace, busy doing Marathi theatre and films, and a handful of Hindi movies. Now, for the past fortnight, his phone has barely stopped ringing.

The man has had to switch off his mobile phone too. Such has been the hysteria he has generated with the portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi in Raj Kumar Hirani's "Lage Raho Munna Bhai", an epochal film that is set to go down as one of the landmarks of Hindi cinema. And Prabhawalkar, as one of the pivotal characters, is busy soaking in all the attention he gets. But ask him, and he concedes it does get a shade too much.



Another still from the movie.

"My life is changing. Since the film's release, people have been calling up from New York, Dubai, Wellington. I have had people calling in the middle of the night. Everybody is happy." So is Prabhawalkar.

In his happiest moment, he recollects, "When we were shooting for the film, nobody had an idea how it would be received. I was a little tense. I was uncertain how Gandhiji would be accepted considering there was no such character in the first part. I was uncertain too about how I would be received. And I had been kept away from the promos as a marketing strategy. We wanted to project the myth."

Now of course, he does not need to worry. Taking some time off after shooting for a Bank of India commercial, Prabhawalkar says, "The response from the youngsters is encouraging. Gandhiji's ideology coming from a man like Munna Bhai communicates well with the new generation. There is nothing preachy about Gandhi here. His philosophy is shown as very practical. While doing the role I realised the true greatness of the man."

Real life Gandhigiri

Indeed. The other day, while travelling on a Pune-Mumbai bus, Prabhawalkar saw the staff playing a pirated version of "Lage Raho Munna Bhai". He called up the director of the film, giving him the bus description and the license plate number. Hirani, in turn relayed the information to the United Copyright Protection Association. Prabhawalkar meanwhile rallied the passengers, alerted the police, who seized the pirated copies.

The driver and the staff had learnt a bitter lesson that piracy is harmful for an industry that gives so much joy to so many. Modern satyagraha, one would say.

"I am very cool by temperament. By playing Bapu I have imbibed compassion, empathy and benevolence," says the man, touching 60, but quite happy still to be doing his own thing in Maharashtra. "Yes, I am. I did not set out to be a Hindi actor. There are so many Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali actors who would be better than me, and who would not be known in the Hindi belt. The problem with Hindi cinema is they change the script, the role and the schedules so often. Since I have to work on more than one project at the same time, I cannot adjust easily. Even to play Gandhi, I did not get a lot of time to prepare, because I was busy doing other roles too."

But it could not have been easy playing Mahatma Gandhi, that too in a comedy? There is that fine line between light-hearted banter and crudity. "I could not take liberties as I was portraying a great man.

I was given some tapes and cassettes by Raj Kumar Hirani, the director of the film. I also saw some old Films Division documentaries. Through the films I realised that Gandhiji used to speak in a monotonous fashion. That is where we took liberties. If we had projected him speaking that way, many could have lost interest. It would have been authentic without being effective. So we changed the tone a little bit."

Through with watching, Prabhawalkar caught up with Gandhi in print. "I was greatly helped by a book by an American journalist, Louis Fisher, who called him a saint. This book was like Bible, Gita and Quran for the role." Prabhawalkar has indeed started to sound like the Father of the Nation.

Little wonder Sanjay Dutt, his co-star in the film, failed to recognise him when they met at the film's special private screening. "At the screening I greeted him and he politely, formally responded with `Good evening'. Then I introduced myself and he burst out laughing," recalls Prabhawalkar who calls his role the most difficult of his 30-year-long career.

"Bapu's make-up took more than three hours. I had to have artificial ears, nose, wrinkles, moustache. I am not dark. I am quite fair, so we had to have a tanned look. I had to shave off the hair on my head completely."

In Shiva too

Prabhawalkar might be soaking in all the adulation of playing the Mahatma in "Lage Raho Munna Bhai", but there is more to come too after Gandhigiri. "Contrary to the common perception, it is not the first time I have done a Hindi film. I have worked with Naseeruddin Shah in `Encounter' and Om Puri in `Chupke Se'.

Now, I am doing the role of a home minister in Ramgopal Varma's `Shiva'. I am the only guy around promoting himsa and ahimsa at the same time," he chuckles, giving a hint of the evil politician he projects in Varma's film releasing this Friday. "When Ramuji called me to his office, I told him I had shaved off my hair three-four days ago and could not do the film. He looked at me, asked me to remove the cap, saw the little growth and declared that was exactly what he was looking for!"

Playing saint and sinner at the same time, Prabhawalkar utilises the rare outing in Hindi cinema to dispel another myth. "I know Hindi. I have read it in school. I can manage fairly well. Just because Marathi is my mother tongue does not mean I do not understand Hindi or any other language. As Indians we all know more than one language. "Well, Bapu would have approved!

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