Renowned actor-writer (1938-2018)

Lalan Sarang (December 26 1938–November 9 2018), was a veteran Indian film, theatre and television producer and actress in Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati productions. She also produced several plays and as a culinary expert, was the owner of ‘Masemari – The Fishing’, a seafood restaurant in Pune. She loved interacting with people who would visit her restaurant and talk about her plays and movies. Born Lalan Paingankar, her middle class family had no acting background, but in college, she began participating in college-level theatre, and developed her acting talent.

Sarang received several accolades for her roles in path-breaking milestone plays, including Sakharam Binder, Gidhade, and Kamla. She also played key roles in Marathi films such as Samna, Ha Khel Savlyancha, Mani Mangalsutra, and Mahek. Apart from the theatre, she was also appreciated a lot for her TV serials like Rathchakra. She was connected to the screen for a long time. Even after getting on in age, she continued acting in order to teach her juniors. Known for her impeccable acting in plays, her portrayal of characters were not only entertaining, but also backed by important social messages.

Her rebellious roles such as the pivotal role of Champa in the Marathi play Sakharam Binder written by contemporary playwright Vijay Tendulkar made her popular. Lalan had to put on make-up to play Champa at the age of 53 in 1995 to play the character opposite Sayaji Shinde. She faced a lot of flak, but stood by her character in the play. The play, translated into other languages, generated a lot of controversy, when it was first performed on stage in February 1972, and was even banned in 1974. Since the first show at Shivaji Mandir, the strong and powerful play directed by well-known Kamlakar Sarang, Lalan’s husband, ruffled feathers of many till its 13th show, which led the censor board to not grant permission to stage it on grounds of vulgarity.

But it won the fierce legal battle in the Mumbai High Court, braving the so-called moral police, and paved the way for dissolving the same censor board, which stopped its shows. Lalan Sarang, the only surviving member had opined, “This masterpiece is relevant even after 40 years. There are plenty of Sakharams in society treating women as slaves. They still pick up other men’s destitute women as their domestic servants and sex partners.” She had added, “Some detractors poisoned the mind of the censor board, which imposed a ban citing vulgarity as a reason just after 13 shows. But the court announced the verdict in our favour.”

In 1974, the Shiv Sena started an agitation against the play. “Wherever we went, the party workers would follow us until Bal Thackeray himself watched the play and the agitation went into oblivion,” remembered Lalan. “During the initial two years, we had to undergo mental and economical sufferings. Actor Nilu Phule opted out of his role of the main protagonist of Sakharam after 10 years. In him, we lost the most suitable actor, who could do justice to the character. The other actors tried to do their best, but unfortunately could not reach the mark,” Lalan had mused.

She presided over the 87th Marathi Natya Sammelan at Kankavali in 2006, and her several awards include the Grahini Sachiv Award of G.D, Madgulkar Pratishthan; Pimpri Chinchwad Kalarang Sanskrutik Sanstha-Kalagaurav award 2015, and the Jivan Gaurav award, 2017. The veteran actor, famous for being diverse in terms of creativi- ty, was also very prolific, and went on to pen some books also such as Nataka Magil Natya (The drama behind the play), a book of memoirs of the incidents and experiences she went through during her days on stage, Mi Ani Majhya Bhumika, Jagle Jasi, and Bahardar Kisse Ani Chatakdar Pakakruti. Lalan died of age-related ailments at the age of 79 in Pune. It led to a wave of mourning in the Marathi theatre and cinema circles. She is survived by son Rakesh and his family.

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