With more than 1,000 shows to its credit, Marathi play Hasva Fasvi is gearing up for its 300th performance in the Us. Ketaki Latkar reports
Man of many avatars
Set in a small town of India, Hasva Fasvi starts off with the felicitation of veteran singer and actor Krishnarao Herambakar — one of the six characters played by acclaimed thespian and cinema star Pushkar Shrotri. It sets the tone for the laugh riot that follows when Herambakar is en route to the venue and his car breaks down and the remaining five characters come into the picture. A Chinese gentleman, a young, college student, Herambakar’s twin sister Purvi, and of course, the ageing protagonist Herambakar — are all played by Shrotri with equal energy.
The two-act play has been written by veteran actor and playwright Dilip Prabhavalkar, and last year, Hasva Fasvi celebrated its silver jubilee. It has to its credit the completion of more than 1,000 shows so far, of which 750 have been helmed by Prabhavalkar. Says Prabhavalkar, “I had started to develop an inexplicable familiarity with all the six characters, in addition to a sense of ownership in my performances. So, despite the shows running a full house, I decided to step back and stop performing any further. I did not want any monotony or over-familiarity to destroy the surprise elements of the light-hearted comedy.” After Prabhavalkar withdrew as the performer in 2000, the performance came to a standstill and went into an indefinite hibernation, only to be resuscitated by Shrotri in October 2014, with the opening show at Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir in Pune.
No quick fixes
Prabhavalkar created a canvas, passionately engaged with it, and later, took an exit; however, he left behind the indelible standards of stagecraft. Speaking about his frame of mind, especially during the initial few performances, Shrotri shares, “Dilip bhaiyya had raised the bar really high. It was always at the back of my mind to not let him and the audience down. Nevertheless, at the same time, I also wanted to make sure that I retain my most natural elements and thespian traits, as those are what make me who I am. That balancing act was quite a tall order.”
Also, the play was written by Prabhavalkar more than two decades back. To enable the audience to relate to the play, some aspects had to be revisited, reworked and modernised. Explains Shrotri, “I have contemporised the script in many ways. For example: the young boy during the times of Prabhavalkar would not emote the way he would right now. Spoken language, as also body language, gestures, demeanour and costumes of each character — everything has changed over the time, and these changes have been incorporated.”
Back in the day, the concept of solo performers shape shifting into multiple characters was a matter of great novelty. “But now, such performances are known to the audience. In a way, that adds to the performance responsibilities, making the swiftness in changing characters the most critical determinant of the surprise elements and the impact of the show,”
One of Shrotri’s greatest struggles is to exit the stage dressed as a Chinese man and make an entry in a record time of a minute-and-a-half, in a completely different avatar, as the old hunchback Nana Punje. “Right from the wigs, to the moustaches, eyebrows, make-up, costumes, and the addition of dentures for Nana Punje’s character, everything needs to transform in that minute-and-a-half,” marks the actor, describing some uphill performance tasks.
Getting it right
As Shrotri effortlessly slips from one character into the other, the audience is only left calculating the split seconds that the transitions happen in, and the quick change of costumes and make-up, which speak volumes about the adeptness of the backstage crew. Shrotri is also a trained makeup artist, and has designed all his looks, together with make- up artist Kamlesh Biche.
Whether it is the Chinese man’s distinct accent and facial peculiarities, the lady character’s voice modulation and body language, or the old Herambakar’s trembling hands and slow gait — Shrotri seems to be getting it just right, every time! There’s an ever-rising excitement that the play’s crew is experiencing as the 300th show will be happening in the US in the next month. Following that, the play will also be performed at the European Marathi Sammelan — scheduled to happen in June at Newcastle in England, “which is a matter of immense pride,” stresses Shrotri.
At the moment, Hasva Fasvi is prepping up to travel across the West and the East coasts of the US from May 5 till the June 10. Shrotri feels, “The Marathi audience abroad has an indescribable literary longing, what I like to call the ‘sanskrutik bhuk’ in Marathi. Also, the fact that they get to interact with the actors, and engage in a constructive dialogue with them, makes them increasingly invested in choosing Marathi theatre.”