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PIFF 2019: Dilip Prabhavalkar was to play an old-age home inmate in Lage Raho Munna Bhai

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Veteran actor Dilip Prabhavalkar, who received the PIFF Distinguished award, spoke of how he bagged Gandhi's role in Rajkumar Hirani's blockbuster and why he turned vegetarian during the film.

Suparna Thombare

Veteran actor Dilip Prabhavalkar has played a multitude of characters in a career spanning more than four decades in theatre, on television, and in Hindi and Marathi cinema.

When it comes to humour, Prabhavalkar's facility and innocence are unmatchable, whether it is the classic TV show Chimanrao Gundyabhau or the stage play Vasuchi Sasu. 

The actor said he takes inspiration from comedians and brands of comedy from around the world. "I am influenced by [writer-actor] PL Deshpande," he said in a conversation with Pune International Film Festival director Jabbar Patel. "A lot of PL Deshpande's humour, whether it is in his writing or on stage, is also about laughing at your own self. He looks at himself also through a comic lens." 

Prabhavalkar said he enjoys different kinds of humour. "From the dark British humour like in Yes Prime Minister to the loud slapstick comedy in Mr Bean. Even Woody Allen or Peter Sellers. So I enjoy a whole range of humour. But personally I enjoy doing the tongue-in-cheek kind. Even poker-faced comedy."

Among the newer generation, Bhau Kadam is one such actor. "Bhau Kadam doesn't make weird faces or anything. He is quite straight-faced," the veteran noted approvingly.

Prabhavalkar went on to speak about how in Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), Rajkummar Hirani had created a Gandhi who lived in the imagination of a gangster, Munna Bhai, played by Sanjay Dutt.

Prabhavalkar, who won the National award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of the Mahatma in the much-loved film, recalled how his Munna Bhai co-star Boman Irani reacted when he first saw him in his Gandhi avatar.

"I was insecure about pulling it off," he admitted. "On my first day of shooting this happened. Boman was not shooting that day. He was just watching the shoot. When he first saw me, he told Raju Hirani, 'Is this Dilip? This is scary.' I said what's so scary about Gandhi. He said the transformation is scary. That gave me confidence because I was at least looking like Gandhi."  

Prabhavalkar said the smile and compassion his character had to maintain throughout wasn't the easiest thing to do. "It took two and a half hours of makeup," he revealed. "I had artificial ears and nose. My skin was stretched to create wrinkles. It was itchy and uncomfortable. And I had to keep a smiling and compassionate face through it all!"

He remembered how, during one of the early days of shooting, he was having lunch and it gave him a strange feeling. "There was a big mirror in the vanity van. I was having chicken. And I saw myself in the mirror eating chicken... in Gandhiji's look! I got scared. It was so weird. After that I became strictly vegetarian till the shooting was done," he said.

Interestingly, Prabhavalkar was never supposed to play Gandhi. He was offered the role of one of the men staying at the Second Innings old-age home. "Raju Hirani had called me for a different role," he said. "It was to play one of the old men in Vidya Balan's grandfather's old-age home. When I went to meet him, he said let me try you for Gandhi's role. I was taken aback because while I am thin, I am also every tall, and my face is nowhere close to his.

"But makeup man Vidyadhar Bhatte did my makeup over three hours and then Raju shot me on a handycam. I did it and forgot about it. But Hirani called me after 2-3 days and said [producer] Vidhu Vinod Chopra liked you. He said you have got a childlike smile. So I got the role because of my childlike smile," the actor laughed.


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Pune International Film Festival