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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

In the gloom of Covid wards, a conversation with Pune’s ‘Big B’ brings laughter and cheer

If light-hearted conversations with the look-alike of one of their beloved celebrities could brush away their fear, even momentarily, it was worth a try, he said. “I started to approach private as well as public hospitals.

Written by Ruchika Goswamy | Pune |
Updated: June 16, 2021 10:54:10 am
“I started to approach private as well as public hospitals. I had reached out to the jumbo Covid centre in Shivajinagar and told authorities about what I had in my mind. I spoke to a few patients via virtual means."

Laughter is the best medicine and 51-year-old Shashikant Pedwal, a professor who also happens to be an Amitabh Bachchan look-alike, firmly believes that. For the last three months, as India was battling a massive second wave of coronavirus infections, Pedwal, as “Bachchan”, has been reaching out to patients as well as medical professionals via virtual platforms. So far, several videos of his – in which he can be seen in complete ensemble, delivering popular dialogues of the superstar or singing along with the patients — have gone viral.

“The second wave of the pandemic was different as people were not only getting infected but the rate of deaths was higher. There was panic and fear among the people. I thought about what I could do to help. Patients in the hospital were not only battling the infection but they were also alone and afraid, as they could not meet their near and dear ones,” said Pedwal.

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If light-hearted conversations with the look-alike of one of their beloved celebrities could brush away their fear, even momentarily, it was worth a try, he said. “I started to approach private as well as public hospitals. I had reached out to the jumbo Covid centre in Shivajinagar and told authorities about what I had in my mind. I spoke to a few patients via virtual means. Later, I asked the medical staff if the patients showed any signs of improvement and to everyone’s surprise, my effort did help.”

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Soon, he started to get more calls for help. “I have a public Instagram account, where I can be reached. I have been getting requests from families who have a patient in the hospital undergoing treatment. Mind you, I do not charge a single rupee for this as it is just out of goodwill. With the help of medical staff and some student volunteers, we set up the laptop or smartphone for the patient to talk to me. They light up and are very happy to interact with Big B, as that is what we tell them. While the family members know my identity, we do not feel the need to tell the patient,” he said.

Pedwal, who is an Industrial Training International professor based in Pune, said it has been his passion to bring laughter and joy into the lives of the people around him. “It has been 12 years since I have been acting like Bachchan sir and he knows about me too. While I am a professor, for the last 28 years or so I have been an artist and performer as it is my passion. I had begun mimicry as an anchor of orchestra shows where my act was a filler throughout the entire three hours. I was also often invited to a cancer hospital in Pune to meet ailing patients,” he said.

Pedwal said he prepares for his scheduled virtual interactions with the help of his wife, Sharmila, daughter Siddhi and son Venkatesh,. “It takes me an hour-and-a-half to do the makeup and attire. My family helps with the backdrop, lights and camera set-up. Like every other celebrity, I too have a solid backstage team I am grateful for,” he said

Pedwal said that under Big B Foundation, an NGO he started four months ago, he wishes to continue using his skill as a look-alike and mimicry artist to entertain people during these tough times. “Many artists have done something similar to help patients come out of the gloom and fear of the virus. It helps them get better and also instills positivity. I also talk to the doctors and nurses, who too need a break from the shadow that the pandemic has cast, and to see them smile is very gratifying,”

Talking about juggling his passion with his work as a professor, Pedwal said that although his students know about his gesture for the patients, it does not interfere with his classes. “I have my classes in the morning. The best time to talk to patients is between 3 pm and 6 pm, as by then they are well rested,” he said.

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