November 15, 2021 1:10:19 pm
Babasaheb Purandare’s grand three-hour play Janata Raja is known across Maharashtra for its production design which brings the 17th century alive on the stage. According to those who worked on the play with him, Purandare was inspired to take up the grand production during a trip to Rome and London.
Diwakar Pande, who was associated with Purandare for over 66 years and also directed Jaanta Raja, reminisced about how the historian was inspired to make the ‘mega show’ which had no parallel in Indian theatre.
Pande said it was after watching grand Roman ballets, which had huge sets, numerous extras and even live animals, that Purandare thought of creating such a show around Chhatrapati Shivaji’s life. He was especially inspired after watching a production of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play The Mousetrap and observing its sound design, Pande recollected.
“After watching the play, he wrote me a letter from London and told me about his plan to create a grand play. He told me to start working on this idea. He put a lot of trust in me. When he returned in October that year, we started doing casting and rehearsals. I was connected to a youth group at that time, so we cast people from that group and elsewhere. Almost all of them were inexperienced. The first casting was that of the shahir, a Class XII boy named Sanjiv Purandare,” he said.
He used to act it out himself and show the actors how to portray important roles. The first show was staged on April 14, 1984 at Renuka Swaroop Girls’ High School and 1,550 shows have been staged across the country so far.
Sagar Deshpande, who authored Purandare’s biography Bel Bhandara, said he had a special affinity towards the youth. “He inspired many generations of youngsters with his books, speeches and plays. For him, telling tales from Chhatrapati Shivaji’s life was not a means of entertainment but an effort towards nation building. He used different media for this, biographies, plays like Janata Raja, films like Sarja and exhibits like Shiv Srushti,” he said.
Deshpande pointed out that despite his advanced age, Purandare continued to meet people with great enthusiasm, almost throughout the day. “When I was writing the authorised biography, it was difficult to get some alone time with him, so he asked me to go see him at 4 am. From 6 am onwards, people would start visiting him, especially morning walkers who go to Parvati Hill. He never distinguished between his visitors, he met everyone – irrespective of age, position or religion – with the same warmth,” Deshpande recounted.
On Monday morning, hundreds of his admirers queued up to pay their last respects to Purandare at his residence in Parvati. Among the visitors were MNS Chief Raj Thackeray, Baramati MP Supriya Sule, Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol and Shiv Sena MLC Neelam Gorhe.
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