Pune. Circa 1999. A small building in Karvenagar. It is dress rehearsal time for Surya Pahilela Manus (The man who saw the Sun), the intellectually stimulating play on the life and times of the Greek philosopher Socrates written by Makarand Sathe and directed by Atul Pethe.
Noted actor Shreeram Lagoo is playing Socrates. The actor walks in ahead of time, deep in thought, ruminating, getting under the skin of Socrates.
The noted playwright and director, the late Satyadev Dubey had once told me, “Lagoo is a very committed actor. Extremely disciplined and hardworking.” Dubeyji’s words were ringing in my ears as I saw Shreeram Lagoo up close in Karvenagar that morning.
Lagoo got into the Socrates’ robes, walked up to director Atul Pethe and had a few words. It was an intense discussion between director and actor. Lagoo made a few gestures. Pethe responded with a nod. They referred to some sheets of paper, probably the script. This was intense stuff. But Lagoo has always been an intense human being. Ace musicologist, the late Bhaskar Chandavarkar was also there. Providing the musical score. Lagoo had a word with him as well. This was the meticulous preparation, which perhaps Dubeyji was referring to. The play was a big hit. As the bearded Socrates, Lagoo had arguably given one of the best performances of his career.
However, if Lagoo had the epic Marathi play, Natasamrat to thank for sky-rocketing him onto the Marathi stage, it was Jabbar Patel’s political film, Saamna in which he shared screen space with the redoubtable, Nilu Phule that brought him into the limelight as a film actor. Naturally, Phule and Lagoo were a great pair on screen and stage.
The Lagoo-Phule magic was clearly visible in none other than the 1997 Atul Pethe directed play, Premachi Goshta in Pune. During the rehearsal of the play, whenever the tea-boy came along and offered a cuppa to Lagoo, he always pointed towards his colleague Phule and said: “Aadhi Nilubhau na deya!” ( Please give Nilubhau first). There was genuine warmth when the two actors spoke to each other. When asked about their easy camaraderie, Lagoo said, “Nilubhau is a grassroots activist. There is nobody in our film industry who understands the problems of the Marathi manoos better than him. He is also such a gifted actor.”
On a personal front, Lagoo has been a firm atheist. An associate of the late Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Lagoo has fearlessly voiced his views on atheism at various Andha Shraddha Nirmaloon Samiti (ANS) forums across Maharashtra.
In an interview he gave me one rainy afternoon in his cosy apartment in Karvenagar, Lagoo had articulated his thoughts on atheism succinctly. “Many inhuman practices, atrocities and wars have taken place in the name of ‘God’. It is not only necessary, but also our duty to abolish the concept of God to end these consequences because it is a great injustice committed against humanity.” Given the state of the world, we are in today, Lagoo’s words deserve serious contemplation.
Lagoo and his actor wife Deepa’s only son, Tanveer died under tragic circumstances in 1994. He was travelling in a Pune-Mumbai train when a stone hurled by a miscreant killed him. This incident scarred the couple for life and Lagoo instituted the annual Tanveer Samman award in his son’s memory.
Playwright-director, the late Satyadev Dubey who was one of the recipients of this award told me, “This is a bitter and sweet moment for me. Shreeram and Deepa acted in my play, Aadhe Aadhure, fell in love and got married. I have seen Tanveer as a small boy, hence accepting an award in his memory makes me sad and nostalgic.”
Being a staunch Puneite, it is understandable that Lagoo loves the hills, Vetal Tekdi being his favourite. Tekdi regulars will recall finding the Lagoo couple seated on a bench near the ARAI compound every evening. Whenever I wished him, Lagoo would always respond with a smile: “Kaay kasa chala aahe?! ( How are things with you?)”
Rahul Chandawarkar, now based in Goa, is a former editor of Sakal Times and recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism award for 2009. Rahul Chandawarkar’s People will appear on Pune365 every other Monday.
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