THE UNEMPLOYED father of a Muslim hoodlum at a time of communal unrest in 1989 film Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro; a vocalist who has strict ideas about whom his daughter should marry in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999); an elderly man whose world comes crashing down when he realises that his wife is dying, in Anumati (2013); the director of ISRO and friend of late scientist and President A P J Abdul Kalam in Mission Mangal’ (2019).
These are but only a few of the roles Vikram Gokhale had essayed — powerfully — on stage and on screen.
The thespian, who was hounored with the National Award for best actor at 60th National Awards in 2013 for Anumati, a Marathi film, died on Saturday at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune. He was 77.
Gokhale’s wife Vrushali and daughters Asavari and Neha survive him.
In hospital for a fortnight, on ventilator support, the actor had shown signs of improvement in the last two days and, according to hospital authorities, had opened his eyes and was moving his limbs. “His condition deteriorated on Saturday morning. He passed away at 1.45 pm,” close friend Rajesh Damle said.
Condoling his demise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Vikram Gokhale ji was a creative and versatile actor. He will be remembered for many interesting roles in his long acting career. Saddened by his demise. Condolences to his family, friends and admirers. Om Shanti.”
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, BJP MP Prakash Javadekar, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle and actor Manoj Bajpayee were among hundreds who paid their respects and recalled the legend through posts on social media.
Gokhale had started his acting journey on Marathi stage and was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for acting in theatre in 2011. His big-screen journey began in 1971 with Parwana, which also featured Amitabh Bachchan. The two developed a relationship of respect and long-lasting friendship, and went on to share the screen in Agneepath (1990), Khuda Gawah (1992) and AB Aani CD (2020).
Over the decades, Gokhale gave stellar performances in a range of roles in prominent Hindi films such as Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Traffic, Hichki and Ab Tak Chhappan. His oeuvre of Marathi films ranged from Lapandav, Aamhi Bolato Marathi and Kalat Nakalat to AB Aani CD, Prawaas and Natsamrat.
His last film, still in the theatres, is Godavari, in which he enacted the role of dementia-ridden grandfather of the lead protagonist. Gokhale also acted in and directed the Marathi film Aaghat.
In recognition of his contribution to cinema, the actor was honoured with the
Vishnudas Bhave Award in 2015 by the Akhil Maharashtra Natya Vidya Mandir.
Writer-director Gajendra Ahire recalled that he had approached Gokhale with a script in 2011. “I have brought you the National Award,” Ahire had said. “He scolded me, saying that I should not talk that way. But after he read the script he agreed there was ‘something’ in the role. He won the National Award and the Best Actor award in New York for it,” he said about Anumati.
Ahire and Gokhale had forged a relationship that went back to the former’s play, Aaicha Ghar Unhacha, in 1992, which Gokhale had seen and appreciated. “Since then, we have worked on 10-12 projects,” Ahire said.
Off public eye, Gokhale was also well-known in the artists’ community for his support to performers and allied workers in distress. When Covid-19 wrought havoc on livelihoods of those who depended on films, television and commercials, Gokhale had donated land worth a few crores for their sustenance. Kore recalled that every
Raksha Bandhan, the actor and his family would celebrate with specially-abled jawans in Pune, continuing a tradition of supporting the forces that had been started by his father, Chandrakant Gokhale.
“There was swabhiman in the way he lived and worked,” Kore recalled.
Filmmakers said Gokhale’s art cannot be measured by awards alone. Ahire said that when they were shooting for Nilkant Master (2016), Gokhale was recovering from a knee replacement operation. “We had to do a gunfighting sequence. When Gokhale started to shoot, he seemed to forget everything and was rolling on the floor and enacting the scene. After the shoot was done, we realised that his knees had been troubling him; that he could barely sit. That’s the kind of performer he was — it was like a switch being flicked on, and he would immerse himself in the role,” Ahire said.
Off screen, Gokhale was building new generations of talent at Vikram Gokhale
Acting Academy, located on Pune-Satara Road. Rajaram
Kore, an executive producer of films who operates the academy, said he had known Gokhale for 12 years.
Recalling Gokhale, the person, Kore said, “Initially, I was afraid to speak to him because of his formidable reputation of being strict about acting…. Gradually, I realised he was warm, loving and kind, although he remained a stickler for perfection in his art throughout his life.”