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Interview Marathi

He was one of the nicest, warmest people I have ever met, says Chaitanya Tamhane of Vira Sathidar

Vira Sathidar's role of the activist-balladeer in Tamhane's critically acclaimed Court (2015) mirrored his real persona.

Suyog Zore

Vira Sathidar, who played the leading role in Court (2015), died on Tuesday morning of COVID-19 complications at the age of 62.

Sathidar, who did just one feature film in his life, played aged lokshahir (people's poet) Narayan Kamble in Chaitanya Tamhane's movie, a role very similar to his own real-life persona. Sathidar was a poet and human rights activist, much like Kamble, the character that brought him international recognition as an actor late in life.

Surprisingly, when it came to the audition, Sathidar looked nothing like his reel-life character. "He had a different look then," Tamhane told Cinestaan.com. "With black hair and a moustache he looked like he could be in his forties. We auditioned him, had a nice conversation, then saw a picture of him in which he looked completely different, white hair, long white beard, face fully covered in facial hair, close to his look in Court. We could not believe it was the same person!"

Sathidar was recommended to Tamhane by senior activist and lawyer Susan Abraham. "She was an adviser on the film and had vetted the script," Tamhane said. "She proposed his name because I had told her we were looking for somebody who fits the character of Narayan Kamble. Then I asked my casting team to contact him, we got his number and asked him to come for the audition."

Sathidar was very sporting and enthusiastic throughout the movie-making process and never interfered with the filmmaker's judgement. "He was one of the warmest, kindest people not only I but my entire team had met," Tamhane said. "He agreed to grow his moustache and beard again. Even though he was such an intellectual person, activist and poet, he never carried that baggage on set. We were very young, I was 25, my entire team was mostly made up of very young people, but he was so jovial, enthusiastic and curious about the whole filmmaking process. He understood the world we were trying to depict in the film and was just like a mastmaula [carefree] kind of person. He never had his vidrohi [rebellious] side to the fore when interacting with us."

Sathidar in real life was a well-known activist and poet, and his role in the film was quite similar to his true persona.

Tamhane revealed that Sathidar's life experience made the process of shooting effortless. "I didn't have to explain much to him because he had seen and interacted with people like Narayan Kamble all his life," the filmmaker said. "He had seen the world we were trying to depict and he had even fought for some of the social issues we talk about in the film. So he was focused on his acting and making the character as believable as possible."

In Court, we see Kamble singing powadas (Marathi ballads). Tamhane revealed that those were the toughest scenes for Sathidar as he had to lip-synch to the songs.

"The biggest challenge for him was the two songs he had to perform," he said. "He had to do lip-synching, which he had never done before. He not only had to memorize the words, but also imbibe [poet-composer-singer] Sambhaji Bhagat's spirit, so he used to be hooked to the earphones listening to the songs over and over, memorizing every beat and every pause for hours. He spent a lot of time learning them, but once he was on set he was flawless!"

Also read: It’s our duty to take his legacy forward, says Sambhaji Bhagat of Vira Sathidar