The sudden demise of actor-dancer Ashwini Ekbote while performing on stage on Saturday evening left people shocked. Ekbote (44), a popular face remembered for her splendid performances in theatre, television and films, suffered a cardiac arrest during the closing act of programme, Natya Trividha, at Bharat Natya Mandir in Sadashiv Peth and died within minutes.
As it was the premier show of the programme, her close friends and relatives were present at the event. Ekbote’s parents too were among those present who witnessed her final collapse.
Sharad Ponkshe, the actor who had a 15-year-long association with Ekbote, too was part of the audience when the unfortunate incident happened. Ponkshe and Ekbote worked together in several films, TV serials and plays, and the former also directed Ekbote in the play, Eka Kshankat.
Watch: Actor Ashwini Ekbote dies during performance
“I can’t believe this has happened. None of us who knew her can believe our own eyes though it happened in front of us. I had called her in the morning and told her that I might skip the premier show of her programme as I was tired from my morning performance. She wouldn’t listen and told me that I have to be there,” said Ponkshe who was also among those who rushed her to a nearby hospital where Ekbote was declared dead. “May be she had an intuition of things to come,” he added.
According to Vishwas Pangarkar, the actor who was also present at the event, said Ekbote’s performance on Saturday night was one of her best in many years. She had performed three classical numbers and was about to finish the fourth when she collapsed, Pangarkar said, adding that he had talked about a ‘classy finish’ minutes before she took to the stage.
“I told her that I really liked her first dance. She told me I should reserve my comment until she finished her last act. It was a brilliant performance which, sadly, ended in her death,” said Pangarkar.
Pangarkar, who also knew Ekbote for decades, said that the actress didn’t have any history of heart-related disorders. “She was completely healthy. Being a dancer she had to be,” he said.
Ponkshe reminisces the day fifteen years ago when he first met Ekbote during an advertisement shoot in Pune and how she climbed the ladder of success patiently without opting for shortcuts.
“It was a washing machine commercial involving a husband and wife. We were cast in the roles together. I was impressed with her acting and advised her that she should try her hand in the film and television industry. Although she wasn’t very keen, she agreed to consider the opportunities if it came across. In August 2001, I suggested her name for a television serial opposite Girish Oak and she got her first break. Later, she bagged several good roles on various platforms,” said Ponkshe.
Another colleague, Bhagyesh Desai, remembers her as an artiste with a social conscience.
“Ashwini was actively involved in women empowerment and environmental issues. She was running a dance training class and very often conducted shows without charging any fee. She also gets credit for her contribution to popularising dance in Maharashtra,” said Desai.