An experimental and influential theatre artiste (1946-2018)

Dilip Kolhatkar, born in 1946, was a noted veteran Marathi theatre and film director, known for his commercially and critically acclaimed plays. He passed away in Pune in 2018, aged 71, after a
prolonged illness. A master of pun, he was born into an illustrious theatrical family based in Sangli, and was a pivotal figure in the Marathi theatre renaissance of the late 1970s and 80s. Kolhatkar, who began with experimental theatre, left an indelible mark as director, and as a skilled aesthetic lighting arranger of Marathi theatre, and successfully carved out a niche in professional theatre. He coordinated the light setting for over 30 plays, including Barrister, Hamidabaichi Kothi and Char Choughi.

Actively involved in the ‘Chhabildas’ theatre movement with noted film and theatre director Vijaya Mehta, he acted in her play Jaswand. Besides, he also worked with Mohan Wagh and directed plays including God Gulabi and Gosht Janmantarichi. He directed over 65 Marathi commercial plays and some films. As many as 20 of these plays went on to remain on stage for over 100 shows. Kolhatkar did some of his best work in helming plays penned by renowned Marathi litterateur Acharya Prahlad Keshav Atre.

His plays included the blockbuster, evergreen comedy, Moruchi Mavshi (Moru’s Aunt), a laugh riot based on Charley’s Aunt (1892), the classic late Victorian farce by Brandon Thomas, which proved a smash hit on the London stage and Broad- way. Moruchi Mavshi has completed 2000 shows. Other plays include Kavadi Chumbak, an adaptation of Moliere’s classic, The Miser, and Ughadale Swargache Daar (which completed 500 shows), Chiranjiv Aaais, Hayavadana, Rajacha Khel and Tumche Amche Gaane, a lively musical, apart from Ashok Patole’s Aai Retire Hotey (A Mother Retires), which celebrated womanhood and did 700 shows. Penned around 30 years ago, its relevance remains the same even today. From the time a woman takes a birth till she dies, she is saddled with many roles and responsibilities. As a girl, she has to behave in a certain way in the society, as a wife she has taken care of her husband, child and in-laws and when she grows old, she has to take care of her grand- children. Basically, the society exploits her.

When the protagonist, an old woman, realises that her existence and importance in her family is ratio-proportionate to her usefulness, she decides to retire from her responsibilities.

The play’s popularity was so much that it attracted theatre artistes associated with other languages too. Shafi Inamdar staged a Gujarati version, Baa Retire Thai Che and Ramesh Talwar did a Hindi version, Maa Retire Hoti Hai with Jaya Bachchan playing the lead. Kolhatkar also acted in the popular Marathi play Chimanrao Gundyabhau, as also Partner, and Makarand Rajyadhyaksha. He also had a small stint in the Marathi film industry directing films like Shejari Shejari (1991), and Taichya Bangdya.

A 12-time recipient of the Natya Darpan award, he also received the Gopinath Savarkar award presented by the Marathi Natya Parishad. During his days of struggle in parallel theatre movement, if he missed the train home, he used to sleep over at a friends’ place. During inter-bank theatre competitions, when any team was given just two days to prepare and present a play, Kolhatkar, though a competitor, used to step forward and help. He would always regale his colleagues with jokes. He was also an uncrowned king of ‘one act plays’ during inter-bank drama contests.

Primarily a denizen of Mumbai, he had been living in Pune since 2002. In February 2018, he suffered a personal tragedy after his wife, Deepali (65), was found murdered at their Kothrud flat. He is survived by a son and daughter. With his demise, Marathi theatre has lost a seasoned artiste who tried hard to reduce the gap between experimental and professional theatre and was also a good guide for new generation artistes. He has left a void in the theatre fraternity. The plays he directed will remain in our memory forever.

A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune-based freelance journalist, short story writer and poet.