Article Marathi

How distorting ‘history’ enabled Vasant Shinde to show his comical side in Subhadra Haran


The kind of creative liberties director Datta Dharmadhikari took in Subhadra Haran (1964) could have landed him in trouble today.

Keyur Seta

Actor Vasant Shinde was one of the more sought-after comedians in the black-and-white era of cinema. He played special characters whose primary task was to provide comic relief, a phrase that has slowly found its way out of contemporary Indian films.

Shinde was a regular in the legendary Dada Kondke’s comedy films where he fit like the proverbial glove. But he also had a few mythological films to his name.

It might come as a surprise to today's audiences that even mythological films of yesteryear had comedians. One such was Datta Dharmadhikari’s Subhadra Haran (1964), which starred Shahu Modak, Jayshree Gadkar, Laxmi, Suryakant and Arun Sarnaik.

On Shinde's 19th death anniversary today, we revisit Subhadra Haran (1964) and Vasant Shinde's character.

Subhadra Haran is based on the tale about the marriage of Subhadra (played in the film by Gadkar), who was the sister of Krishna (played by Modak), to Arjuna.

Balaram, Krishna's older brother, is eager to get their sister married to the evil Kaurava prince, Duryodhan, at their palace in Dwarka. But Subhadra is in love with Arjuna and wants to marry only him. Sadly, she doesn’t have a say in the matter.

This is when Krishna plays a trick. He calls Bheema’s son Ghatotkach and asks him to use his magical powers to create confusion and somehow stop Duryodhan’s marriage with Subhadra. The plan also involves kidnapping Subhadra to ensure she is not present in Dwarka on the day of the wedding (hence, the title).

Vasant Shinde frozen in mid-air

Shinde plays a character called Bhattji, who is obsessed with food. He is one of the priests in the palace of Dwarka. The main aim of the character is to make the audience aware of the kind of powers Ghatotkach possesses.

This also means Bhattji falls prey to the powers for no fault of his. But Shinde’s antics ensure you don’t feel bad for the character, and also help to evoke laughter. The actor had to carry out the difficult task of being frightened and appearing funny at the same time. He managed it with ease.

The special effects at a time when computers were not in vogue are praise-worthy. One can imagine the efforts taken by the editing team to freeze a man in thin air, make food items and clothes vanish, and make a man fly.

But what takes the cake is to see two versions of Bhattji’s characters in the same frame. Wonder how they managed this feat back in 1964. It brings back memories of Dadasaheb Phalke’s ‘special effects’ in films like Raja Harishchandra (1913) and Kaliya Mardan (1919).

Shinde’s character of Bhattji, of course, finds no mention in any mythological text. It is easy to take creative liberties with characters that are not primarily connected to the main story.

Vasant Shinde in Subhadra Haran (1964)

But, interestingly, the writers have also played with the basic plot. As per Ved Vyasa’s Mahabharata, it is Arjun who kidnaps Subhadra to get married to her. However, Subhadra Haran shows Ghatotkach, Bheema's son and Arjun's nephew, doing the honours. In fact, even Ghatotkach’s assistance in the mission is not mentioned in Ved Vyasa’s Mahabharata. Finally, the makers also show Arjuna abducting her for the same reason later.

Mythology expert Devdutt Pattanaik has mentioned in an article on his official website that Ghatotkach had helped Arjun’s son Abhimanyu and Balaram’s daughter Vatsala marry secretly as the girl’s father was not in favour of the marriage.

Interestingly, the creative liberty taken for the character of Ghatotkach in Subhadra Haran is unprecedented. Though he was the son of Bheema, he looks much older than his uncle Arjuna and even Krishna. In fact, Ghatotkach dies at a young age in the epic. Therefore, the reason to hire an aged man to play the character is a mystery.

But it is such creative liberties that ensured that Shinde got a chance to show off his comical antics in a mythological film. It is doubtful if the film would have got a smooth release in today’s times thanks to those who are up in arms against anything that distorts 'history'.