Veteran, award-winning psychiatrist-actor, Mohan Agashe, has a bone to pick with me. And he has a point. Decades ago, I was mesmerised by his sterling stage performance playing Nana Phadnavis in Vijay Tendulkar’s masterpiece—Ghashiram Kotwal—a scathing socio-political satire, which is now a 50-year-old cult play about the abuse of power and caste during the early eighteenth century Peshwa period.
Mohan believes I am stuck on that one role of his, when he has been recognised for countless other amazing on-screen roles—from M.F. Husain’s Gaja Gamini to Dr Prakash Baba Amte: The Real Hero. More recently, he is being lauded for playing a grandfather figure in Do Gubbare, streaming on Jio Cinema. I met him at a special screening and made the mistake of bringing up a Ghashiram revival, considering Mohan, today, at 76, is about the same age Nana was in the play. But Mohan had played the despicable character when he himself was still in his twenties. So inspired was I by Mohan’s character that we had acquired two precious watercolours when Husainsaab painted the Ghashiram series.
Mohan is a Punekar. I am half a Punekar. His Marathi is far better than my Bambaiya version. We meet rarely, but when we do, the connect is immediate. Mohan is cerebral without being oppressively so. As the principal investigator for an Indo-US joint project on cultural disorders of fatigue and weaknesses, and as someone who was instrumental in establishing the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health, way back in 1991, Mohan leads a hectic life—travelling, acting, attending workshops and seminars. His love for the spotlight started when he was a child artist in theatre and culminated when he took over as director general of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), during a challenging period. He has his own loyal following, including in Germany, which honoured him with the prestigious Goethe Medal.
Padma Shri Mohan Agashe wears his laurels lightly and has a wicked sense of humour. When he invites me to his events and I plead off with legitimate reasons (“My children are demons. I have a lot of them. And grandkids, too. Grrrrr… birthdays, anniversaries, occasions never end in this family’’), he will have none of it. This time, too, he shot back, “Shobhaa, I should get priority for old time’s sake… elderly, single people like me also need your attention at the right time… or else I’ll only be a memory for you.” Instant guilt kicked in, as I left my daughter’s lunch half-way and headed to the venue of the screening. Mohan looked happy to see me. He was flirting with an attractive organiser and told her some nonsense to make her laugh as we posed for publicity pictures. I couldn’t stay for the screening, but sure enough, I received a text from Mohan: “These days we badly need a good detox agent in entertainment…like Do Gubbare…. Try watching, I assure you it is damn good.” So it is. Mohan’s performance has generated waves, as most of his performances do. He mentioned a new project he is shooting for in Delhi. His co-star? The beauteous Sharmila Tagore.
Not sure when or where I will meet Mohan next. But I am glad he used his psychiatric training to induce enough guilt in me to drop everything and rush to his screening. We are both at a stage where we can make such “unreasonable” requests of one another and get away with it! Here’s to old—and entirely genuine—friendships!