Actor par excellence (1931-2011)
Prabhakar Panshikar, born on 14 March 1931, was a renowned Marathi stage actor and thespian, whose role as Lakhoba Lokhande in the Marathi stage drama To Mee Navhech is considered to be one of the most memorable roles ever. He had the distinction of performing as an actor and producer on screen, stage and television. He spent 53 tireless years on stage with over 8,000 performances in various languages like Marathi, Hindi, English, Kannada and Gujarati.
Born into a family of Karhade Brahmins in Phanaswadi, Mumbai, his forefathers, originally from Pernem Taluka, Goa, had been Sanskrit, Vedas and astrology scholars. Despite inheriting this legacy, Panshikar discovered early in his life that he was cut out for different things.
At age 15, on an impulse, Panshikar acted in a play, Me Ubha Aahey, based on municipal elections, during his school annual gathering without his parents’ knowledge, and the appreciation he received drew him closer to stage, His passion for acting, and weakness in Math resulted in his failing his matriculation in 1949 and dropping out of school. “My family was sternly against my entering into Marathi theatre,” he recollected in an interview. Leaving home when young to realise his dream of becoming an ‘actor’, he practically lived on the streets for nearly six years, and struggled on with help from friends and acquaintances.
The first break in professional theatre came by accident in 1955. He replaced an artiste for the play Ranicha Baug, and thus got acquainted with the proprietor of Natya Niketan, M.G. Rangnekar. Bit roles in commercial shows of popular plays later, as manager of the troupe, he mastered all aspects of theatre production and honed his skills as an actor by ‘standing in’ in the absence of other actors. Fifteen years of relentless struggle was finally rewarded in 1962 with a lead role in a new play called To Mee Navhech, written by eminent Marathi literary giant Acharya P.K. Atre.
The play demanded him to do five contrasting characters, ranging from a flirtatious tobacco merchant to the elite naval officer, all within a span of three hours, not merely to add to the novelty value or as a stunt, but because the story demanded it. The play used ‘a revolving stage’ for the first time in Marathi theatre. It was about the character of Lakhoba Lokhande (based on Madhav Kazi, an active criminal of the 1950s), who tries to prove he is not the accused in court cases, and was full of sarcastic dialogues and satirical reflections, still relevant today, and performed over 3,000 shows over 52 years.
In 1963, teaming up with Mohan Wagh, and Vasudev Kolhatkar, he started ‘Natya Sampada’, a theatre production house which developed local artistes and launched them in cities like Pune, Mumbai, Kolhapur, etc. Its first commercial success Ashruchi Zaali Phule completed 1,111 shows in 36 years. Panshikar also with close friend and actor-director from Gujarati theatre Kanti Madia, staged the Gujarati version of Ashruchi Zaali Phule (Aatamne Ojhalma Raakhma). He also produced a musical play Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, an all-time classic.
When once asked why he chose theatre over films, he responded “I was never interested in films, and craved neither for money or fame.” He received many awards, among them are the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Theatre – Acting (Language Theatre-wise) –Marathi, Vishnudas Bhave Suvarnapadak, Rajarshee Shahu Suvarnapadak, Natyagaurav Puraskar, Natasamrat Bal Gandharva Smriti Puraskar, etc. He was the first recipient of the Jeevan Gaurav Puraskar of Maharashtra government (it was later renamed the Prabhakar Panshikar Award).
Despite being in critical condition, Panshikar was very much in his elements. “I got to do a patient’s role now which I had never enacted in my acting career,” he told the cardiologist in his last days. Panshikar died at age 79, in Pune on 13 January 2011 from cardiac arrest and renal failure, survived by his wife Vijaya, three children and seven grandchildren.