One of the greatest artist of Indian cinema, Bhagwan Dada is about to comes to life with “Ekk Albela”. And the man behind the character, Mangesh Desai talks to Viraj Sawant about everything that went into replicating the great actor.
We couldn’t make out if it was you playing Bhagwan Dada or if his film was being made into colour. How did your journey for EKK ALBELA begin?
I got an SMS from Shekhar Sartandel sir saying that he wanted to narrate the script of a film to me. We met for the narration, and after hearing to the whole story, my first question to him was, which role does he want me to enact in this film? Trust me, I never imagined playing Bhagwan Dada’s role! So I naively asked him what would be my role in this film. Shekhar sir told me that he wanted me to play Bhagwan Dada’s role itself. I asked him if he found any similarities between me and Dada. He had come well prepared for this question, and he showed me a picture where he had marked all the similarities between me and Bhagwan Dada. He said that all this research and thinking was done and I had to do the film.
Bhagwan Dada had a unique style of acting and dancing especially. Were you a little nervous to play this role?
When I agreed to do the film, I asked for three months for my personal research on Dada. I still had a few doubts in my mind about doing this role and especially dancing. Trust me, I share a very tough relationship with dance. I can act very confidently but when it comes to dancing, I am little doubtful. But the director assured me that I could do it. I dint want it to happen so that the entire film is good but the dance is a little not up to the mark. He gave me the confidence that I wanted.
How did you do your research for EKK ALBELA?
Bhagwan Dada was a very popular as we all know. He developed his style and there are many who followed his style and he has a huge fan base too. Even after all this, except for his film ALBELA, on social media or the internet there isn’t much about him. There’s just one book written on him by Isak Mujawar. Apart from that, there isn’t much. My director told me that I am not supposed to mimic him in the film as it’ll take away all the seriousness. I am not supposed to draw a caricature of the actor on screen. He told me I was to show as if Mangesh Desai is presenting Bhagwan Dada on screen. This is like a huge risk for me, my director and the producer of the film.
I saw ALBELA for 20-25 times because that’s the only source I had. It was a part of my daily routine. While watching the film, I realised that Dada is a natural actor. He doesn’t act; he just presents himself in a role. I held this thread and decided to implement Bhagwan Dada’s style into my acting.
How was it working with Vidya Balan?
When I got to know that Vidya Balan was working in our film, I really did not believe my director. I never thought Vidya Balan would do a Marathi film. And even if she did, she would maybe do one or two scenes and never did I think she would agree to do four songs and six to seven scenes. She already has a glorious career in Hindi films. When she came on the set, that’s when I actually came to terms with the fact that she was doing the film.
Our first scene was just a stanza from a song. But a lot more was ahead and I always had this doubt in mind. What if I felt that one scene wasn’t coming out well and I wanted to do it again – would it hurt her ego? My doubt fell flat on its face because such a thing never happened! She was in so much comfortable and cooperative too. In fact on the third day of the shoot, we were supposed to pack-up for the day at 10.30 pm but we went on till 11.30 pm and still there was this one scene that was left. Our director decided to cut down that scene because he felt this would hamper her schedule. She got to know about this and she called the director. She told him that if the scene was important then she would wait even if it went on till 4 am. She explained to him that it wouldn’t be a problem to stay till late if it was for a scene. That’s how cooperative she was.
What’s your last memory of Bhagwan Dada?
Dada’s song, ‘Bholi surat, dil ke khote…’ was one that would definitely play at weddings or during celebrations. But even after hearing the song I hadn’t seen Dada. Then I saw ALBELA when they used to show films on weekends on television. In 1994-95, I saw him in Essel Studio. He was wearing a checkered half pant with a vest on top of it. I couldn’t recognise him. So I asked the watchman in the studio who that was. He told me it was Bhagwan Dada. I went and spoke to him and told him that even I was an actor. I still remember how he looked at me and with his eyes he tried to caution me to stay safe in the industry. After that I never thought I would play his role in his biopic.