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Laxmikant Berde, the actor who straddled Hindi and Marathi cinema with ease

Berde's tryst with Hindi cinema began with the Rajshri classic Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). Though he had a minor role, he was appreciated and began to get more offers.

Alex Almeida

Laxmikant Berde remains one of the most popular and prolific actors of Marathi cinema. His death 12 years ago to the day came as a shock to both the Hindi and Marathi film industries. Yet, his rise was fairly expected.

Berde first came into the public eye when he appeared on the Doordarshan Marathi programme, Gajra. For 20 years from 1984 onwards, Lakshya, as he was popularly known in Maharashtra, made everyone laugh. At his funeral, comedian Johnny Lever said, "The king of comedy is no more." It was apt that Lever, one of Hindi cinema's top comedians, paid this tribute.

Berde's interest in acting dated back to his youth. A regular performer at stage shows during the Ganesh festival at Konkanasth Vaishya Samaj, Girgaum, he also acted in inter-school and inter-collegiate competitions. After winning several awards, he decided to start his professional acting career with the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh.

In 1983-84, Laxmikant got his first break in the play Tour Tour directed by Purushottam Berde (no relation). It began a productive relationship with Purushottam Berde, who went on to direct him in several hit Marathi films. It was also the first display of Laxmikant's unique style of comedy.

His film debut came the same year in 'Lekh Chalali Sasarla' (1984), which had him act alongside Mahesh Kothare, Alka Kubal, Shashikala and Savita Prabhune. The film led to a lifelong friendship with Kothare, who would cast Berde in all the films he directed. Kothare cast the actor in films like Dhoom Dhadaka (1985), Masoom (1996), and Lo Main Aa Gaya (1999).

It was Dhoom Dhadaka that brought the hit pair of Berde and Ashok Saraf together for the first time. One of Marathi cinema's greatest comic duos, they went on to do more than 50 films together through the 1980s and 1990s. They also did some memorable work in Hindi cinema in films like I Love You (1992), Yaara Dildara (1991) and Beti No 1 (2001).

The 1980s saw Berde rise to the top of the star list in Marathi cinema, working alongside names like Sachin Pilgaonkar, Kothare, Saraf, Sudhir Joshi, Prem Kiran, Kubal, Prabhune, Nivedita Joshi, Varsha Usgaonkar, and Priya Arun (later to become his wife), among others. A cult classic of this period was 'Ashi Hi Banwa Banwi' (1988), directed by Pilgaonkar, which had Berde playing Saraf's wife, Parvati.

Even as his career in Marathi films was doing well, he began receiving offers to act in Hindi films. Berde's tryst with Hindi cinema began with the Rajshri Productions' classic Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), directed by Sooraj Barjatya. Though he had a minor role in the film, he was appreciated and began to get more offers.

In the 1990s, Berde established himself as a leading comedian in Hindi cinema alongside popular names like Kader Khan, Johnny Lever, Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Deven Verma, Anupam Kher and Paresh Rawal. He continued to balance his work as a comedian in Hindi cinema with leading roles in Marathi films. In the year Maine Pyar Kiya released, he delivered one of his biggest Marathi hits 'Hamaal De Dhamaal' with Usgaonkar. The film even had Anil Kapoor playing himself in a cameo.

The 1990s saw his stature as a serious actor rise. Berde's performance as the struggling tamasha artiste in the Marathi film, Ek Hota Vidhushak (1992), remains one of his best performances. He followed it up with another good performance in Zapatlela (1993). The year 1994 saw Berde join the cast of Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit in the superhit Barjatya film Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!.

Berde was paired opposite his future wife, Priya Arun, in many Marathi and Hindi films. He was earlier married to Roohi Berde, who played Shatrughan Sinha's sister in Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973). Berde married Priya after Roohi's death in 1998. By the 2000s, Berde's presence in Hindi cinema had begun to fade, and he decided to focus on Marathi films. After a brief lull, he came back with a hit in Kothare's Pachadlela (2004). The film was his last release before death and saw him play a fraudster tantrik, while Bharat Jadhav and Shreyas Talpade played the lead comic duo.

Incidentally, Berde was set to sign up for a film with Sachin and Ashok Saraf, Navra Maza Navsacha (2005), which was to mark the trio’s comeback to Marathi cinema after 14 years, but ill health came in the way. The film released four months after his death. Pilgaonkar dedicated the film to Berde as a tribute. Kothare's Khabardar, his first project without Berde, was also dedicated as a tribute.

Till the end, Berde remained prolific in his work. The last Marathi film he acted for, Tujyasathi (2004), relased 15 days after his death. The other films which released the same year were Insan (2005), starring Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, and Katl-e-Aam (2005). Twelve years after his death, Berde is still missed. At a recent awards event, Nivedita Joshi Saraf (Ashok Saraf's wife) said, 'Jithe vinod, tithe Lakshya' [Where there is comedy, there is Lakshya]. There could be no more fitting tribute.