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At 83,Jaymala Shiledar is as beautiful as ever.

Written by Debjani Paul |
May 16, 2013 3:23:26 am

Jaymala Shiledar,who was awarded the Padma Shri earlier this month,sees it as a recognition for Marathi natyasangeet

At 83,Jaymala Shiledar is as beautiful as ever. What strikes one the most is the massive red bindi on her forehead and the twinkle in her eyes as she looks on with an ever-ready smile. Her stiff yellow cotton saree and pearl earrings complete the look and she is ready to go on stage. Yet,as she sits in the green room,memories from another time surround her. With the harmonium and tabla by her side,the walls are splashed with posters and photos from her younger days. The newest addition is a photo taken on May 5 in Delhi,when she was awarded the Padma Shri for a lifetime of contribution to Marathi natyasangeet (musical drama).

“I am so happy to get this award. It is not just recognition for me,but for Marathi natyasangeet as well,” says the former theatre actor-singer. Once a vibrant force on stage,with a voice that drew a full house every time,Shiledar now speaks in hoarse whispers . In 2000,she underwent a bypass surgery to remedy her cardiac problems,and then was fitted with a pacemaker in another surgery a few years ago. The surgeries cost her more than she bargained for and Shiledar is now unable to sing or speak beyond a few forced phrases. It’s no wonder then that her daughter,Kirti,who is also a performer,feels the Padma Shri has come late. “Even now,compared to the work she has done,it is but a token. But we appreciate the award for bringing the Maharastrian tradition of natyasangeet to the forefront,” says Kirti.

After performing over 4,500 shows over a span of more than 50 years,Shiledar may be unable to sing anymore,but her legacy goes on. The plays that she performed in are being revived to this date and Marathi Rangbhoomi,the production house she set up with her husband 63 years ago,is now being run by the second and third Shiledar generations. What has changed,though,is audience’s attitude towards theatre. “These days,people want to see everything in two minutes. Even in cricket no one watches test matches anymore. It has become the same with entertainment. But the tradition of musicals has more depth and poise than that. Our musicals can stretch up to five hours to tell the story properly,” says Shiledar.

Her memories of natyasangeet in her younger days are of shows that would run to packed houses,where masters such as Balgandharva or Narayan Shripad Rajhans would cast a spell. Shiledar herself is one of Balgandharva’s protegees and recounts stories with the legend. “One time,when we were going to perform Swayamvar for the first time,he fell sick and couldn’t perform his part. So I went on stage instead of him. He liked my performance so much,he gave me a brass Ganesh idol. To this day,it is the biggest award I have ever received,” she says.

She also recalls performing once while she was pregnant with Kirti. Shiledar was traveling with her husband as he toured for his play. One weekend,one of the actors had to go away and there was no one to fill in. “In those days I was known as Premila Jadhav and they said,‘Premila tai can do it’. When they asked me,I said yes,and we performed that day to another full house,” she says. The Shiledar family has now compiled photographs,videos and anecdotes like these from her life,and made a documentary which will be screened at FTII on May 19 at 6 pm.

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