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Ramesh Bhatkar (August 1949 – 4 February 2019): Indian television's original star cop

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Long before CID's ACP Pradyuman, Ramesh Bhatkar was television's favourite cop with serials like Hello Inspector, Damini, Commander and Tisra Dola.

Suparna Thombare

Ramesh Bhatkar, the popular actor who worked in theatre, television and films and found success in all three mediums, died at Mumbai's St Elizabeth hospital today after a long battle with cancer.

He is survived by his wife, Justice Mridula Bhatkar of the Bombay high court, and their son Harshavardhan.

Bhatkar was a rare actor who managed to balance his love for theatre with a career in television and films spanning over 40 years.

He has starred in over 55 plays, 100 films and 30 television shows, showcasing his wide range and versatility as an actor. He worked constantly over the years, without a break, taking up most of the work that came his way.

Bhatkar came from a film family. His father, Snehal Bhatkar, was a celebrated singer and music composer for films like Raj Kapoor and Madhubala's Neel Kamal (1947), Sohag Raat (1948) and Chhabili (1960) from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The senior Bhatkar tried his best to get young Ramesh to learn the violin and also enrolled him in singing classes conducted by Pyarelal of Laxmikant-Pyarelal fame (the duo were still to hit the big time then). But music simply wasn't his passion, and he would get bored in a few months. 

In his younger days, Ramesh Bhatkar more inclined towards sports and was on his college's aquatic squad, but that love affair only lasted till the acting bug bit him. Theatre soon became his love and continued to be so till the very end. 

Ramesh Bhatkar made his entry into cinema with the Marathi film Chandoba Chandoba Bhaglas Ka (1977). This was followed by films like Ashta Vinayak (1978), Duniya Kari Salam (1979), Aapli Mansa (1979) and Maherchi Manase (1984).

But his biggest success came with Maherchi Sadi in 1991. While co-star Alka Kubal, who played his wife in the film, walked away with the accolades, Bhatkar was also appreciated for his intense portrayal. 

While he did a few Hindi films as well, most of the over 100 films he acted in were in Marathi. That was because in Hindi he mostly got offered supporting characters and small parts that would not have afforded him much opportunity to showcase his range.

In fact, his last Hindi film was The Accidental Prime Minister (2018), in which he played Maharashtra's former chief minister Prithviraj Chauhan, again a small role.

The longer roles that came his way in Hindi cinema were with director Deepak Balraj Vij, with whom he had a special bond. But to his ill luck, those films flopped.

However, his television roles in the early 1990s made Ramesh Bhatkar a household name. Long before Shivaji Satam became famous as the long-running serial CID's ACP Pradyuman, Bhatkar was television's favourite cop, thanks to his roles in detective serials like Hello Inspector (1990, Marathi), his first title role on the small screen, and Damini (Marathi), both of which were telecast on Doordarshan, Commander (1992, Hindi) on Zee TV and Tisra Dola (1998) on DD Sahyadri.

Bhatkar's performance in Zee TV's Commander (1992) brought him immense popularity among non-Marathi audiences, something his film stint could never accomplish.

But while television brought him fame, the acclaim came from his plays. Theatre was his love and he stuck to it consistently. While he got noticed in the play Mukta in 1986, his biggest success on stage came with Vasant Kanetkar's Ashrunchi Zali Phule (Tears That Turned Into Flowers) in the role originally essayed by the late Dr Kashinath Ghanekar. The play, which was first performed in 1976 with Ghanekar in the lead, had a record run of almost 28 years.

With the success of this play, there was no looking back for Bhatkar and he became the go-to man for author-backed parts on the Marathi stage in the 1980s and 1990s.

His long list of memorable lead roles in theatre includes Denaryache Haath Hazaar, Ugadale Swargache Daar, Shadyantra, Kevha Tari Pahate, Akher Tu Yeshilach, Rahu Ketu, The Boss – Sutradhar, and Yayati, another play that brought him much acclaim.

Ramesh Bhatkar, with his trademark moustache and gravelly voice, will be missed on the Marathi stage and screen.