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Winning the National Award for Best Child Artiste has given Somnath Avghade a new-found recognition within his community.
He isn’t eligible to vote yet, but child actor Somnath Avghade already has a grudge against the election system, which unassumingly played spoilsport for his celebrations. After receiving the news of his National Award win for Best Child Artiste, Avghade wanted to celebrate with friends and music, but was not allowed. “I was ecstatic after I heard the news. I wanted to dance on the streets and organise a DJ party. But the police asked me to stop as there was voting in my village the following day,” says Avghade, over the phone, from his village, Kem, Maharashtra, his voice livening up, as though still coming to terms with his achievement. Sixteen-year-old Avghade is the lead actor in Nagraj Manjule’s 2013 Marathi directorial debut, Fandry, a film, which looks at an innocent childhood love story wrapped in the cloak of caste-basted discrimination, a reality which Avghade has faced in real life too. Hailing from a family of Halgi performers who are from the lower caste community in the Karmale district of Solapur in Maharashtra, Avghade and his family have been entertaining crowds at private functions, weddings, festivals and public gatherings for years. They form groups with other Halgi players and play at as many venues as possible for a paltry sum of Rs 200. “This is our reality and I have no problems accepting that. Acting was never a consideration for me. But it is nice that it came my way,” says Avghade, who studies in the 10th grade at Kem’s Rajabhau Vidyalaya Kendra.
In the film, Avghade’s character, Jabya, falls in love with his classmate who belongs to a higher caste. Though aware of this stark reality, Jabya secretly sources cash for an expensive gift that he is planning to buy for the girl. In the meantime, Jabya’s parents are pooling in all their meagre earnings for their elder daughter’s wedding. Already ridiculed and teased by the villagers for being from the lower caste community, things start becoming difficult for Jabya’s family when news of his intentions spread through the village. Even in real life, Avghade has faced discrimination all his life from higher-caste villagers. “But we have never let that affect our happiness. Now that I have won the National Award, I’m treated like a hero. I get to hear praise from strangers on a daily basis and there is a new respect for my family now,” says Avghade, who idolises Salman Khan and was even invited for dinner to Aamir Khan’s place after Fandry’s theatrical release in February. “That was a special moment. I have seen Lagaan, Tere Naam and Andaz Apna Apna many times,” he says.
But Avghade never wanted to be an actor. He desperately tried, for many months, to evade Manjule’s attempts at convincing him to act. At times, he would hide inside the village water tank or run into the fields when Manjule came looking for him. “I was looking for a teenager and Avghade’s voice and mannerisms suited the role. I just had to convince him to act in my film since he had never faced a movie camera and was very shy,” recalls Manjule, who previously won a National Award for his short film titled Pistulya in 2010. After having a special screening of Pistulya (which also had a child actor in the lead), Manjule lured Avghade with the thought of a President’s award, if he acted well. After subsequent rounds of rehearsals and training workshops for a month, in Pune, Avghade accepted Manjule’s offer. “I saw children my age from the city performing effortlessly in front of the camera. I thought if they can do it then it should not be so difficult for me either. And after a while it didn’t feel like I was acting. I was just behaving like I did in real life,” says Avghade, who will now be moving to Pune to complete his schooling.
Though life has not changed significantly for Avghade after the award, he is grateful for all the respect and recognition he has received through this film. “In future, I would like to become an actor and earn enough money to buy a huge house for my parents in Mumbai,” he adds.