The last page daddy wrote before dying, was that he wanted us to keep his memories in his diary intact and not get them published. A lot of people had approached us for our recollections about him but seven years after his death we have consented to this article because we feel that we owe him a tribute. This is the first time we have ever spoken on him.
He was born on 29th March, 1914. Our grandfather was a lawyer but he died when dad was just 10. So the whole responsibility of his family, fell on him. At that time, the tradition was that if a Brahmin came to anyone’s door, they were never sent back empty-handed. Thai’s how he kept the home fires burning. Later on, he joined a drama company, where he served drinks and washed utensils. And sometimes when small artistes failed to turn up, the spot boys would fill in for them. That’s how he landed up with bit roles in plays.
During this period, he met Mr. P.K.Atre and Nanasaheb Phatak, both big names in the drama world. They were later to become close friends of his, for years to come. Soon, he started getting recognized and bigger roles came his way. Although he eventually became famous as a comedian in films, he was more well known as a villain. He played major roles in famous plays like, ‘Lagna Chi Bedi’, ‘Ghara Baher’. His performance as an old man was so convincing, that people told him he would never get anyone to marry him if he kept it up! He was barely 25 years old then!
From stage, he shifted his focus to the silver screen. He worked in big movies like Woh Kaun Thi, Ankhen, Gumnaam, Arzoo, Sasural etc. In fact, we don’t even know most of his movies because he never took us to see them. It is only after his death that we saw his movies. But I remember someone telling us, that the first movie he did was a Marathi one, called Pedgaonche Shahane in which he played the role of a South Indian. After that, he got many offers to play similar roles. He did all of them but was not very happy doing the same thing over and over again.
One thing he was very particular about, was education. After he got married to my mother, he made sure she completed her education. I guess it was his ambition that since he never got an opportunity to learn (because he was too busy making ends meet), and did not want anyone to go through the same situation. He gave us (my brother and two sisters) the best opportunities to equip ourselves with the best of education. If any of us secured less marks, we would be beaten with a clothes hanger or locked in the bathroom. He even made sure our pocket money was spent on books instead of sweets or movies. He discouraged us from indulging in frivolities like spending on clothes or restaurant-hopping. Daddy not only spent on our education, but helped many others who were not able to afford the same. All one had to tell him, was that they didn’t have money to study, and even if we didn’t have the means he would give the person the money. A few years ago, we were invited to a Kavi Sammelan in Sirur, near Pune, on that occasion Professor Suryakant Vaidya, who is an author and a Principal, dedicated two of his books of poems to daddy.
He never installed a telephone at home. Since we lived in Chembur, which was considered very far away from Bombay at that time, it was very difficult for producers to contact him. If they wanted to sign him for their movies, they would have to come all the way home. The reason he gave for not having a telephone, was that unless producers had a good role for him, they would not bother to come all the way there. He didn’t go around asking for roles either. He was too proud to do a thing like that. But somehow, most of his producers would repeat him in every movie of theirs. He was a regular in all Raj Khosla, Shakti Samanta, Pramod Chakravorty and Bappi Sonie films. And from the Marathi moviedom for directors like the late Kamlakar Torne and late Vasant Joglekar — he remained of his favorite to the end. In fact Shobha Khote, Mehmood and my dad were the popular trio in those days. Recently in an interview, actor Mehmood spoke fondly about those days they worked together.
No chore was too small for him. Even when he was doing very well in films, on a holiday, he would wear his short pants and a white shirt and go marketing, or clean the house of its cobwebs. Although he was very busy, he made sure he never neglected the home. When the time came for our marriages, it was he who, like a typical father, went to all the marriage bureaus in Bombay looking for suitable match for us and that too with lot of patience. He never lost his temper with us. He was truly our friend, philosopher and guide. We were scared of our mother but with him, we could discuss anything.
A very very pious man, for almost 17 or 18 years, he made sure he fasted every Monday. It so happened, that he would invariably be shooting on Mondays. But that did not deter him. He would wake up around four in the morning to perform pooja. He was always punctual on the sets. He had been a diabetic for 40 years, and before going to shooting, he gave himself an insulin injection without anybody’s help.
He never wanted to be dependent on anyone. He developed a cataract in one eye and lost his sight of that eye. So whenever he left house, one of us would volunteer to go along with him but he would sternly refuse, saying that if we wanted to go, we could do so on our own. The only time he left house, was to do the marketing or to go for shootings. He never attended film parties. Even when we did go to a wedding, he would walk in, wish the couple and leave immediately. We used to plead with him to wait, so that we could eat the delicious sweets, but he would reply with a nice pinch!
Generally, nothing made him tense. He was the most happy-go-lucky man we ever saw. The only time we saw him tense was when he had to get us married and did not have enough money to do this on a grand scale. But still, he never took a loan from anyone and we all had quiet weddings. The little money he made from films, he invested in a house in Lonavala, which is being looked after by my elder brother-in-law and sister. W w.nt there very often with daddy. That was the place we had family get-togethers. Another time he was tense was when my newly born daughter had some complications and had to go through multiple surgeries. Although he had a heart problem, he would make sure he came to visit her every day. The day she got better, we brought her to the temple close to our house, before taking her home. Soon after she got better, he expired due to a massive heart attack.
The last person he met, was Shashi Joshi, his friend who owned a hotel in Kolhapur. Whenever daddy went there, he would stay at his hotel, although it was not a very posh one. Mr. Joshi’s wife cooked special food for dad, because of his diabetic condition. He spoke with Mr. Joshi for a long while, who then left. A few hours later he was admitted to hospital where he breathed his last — February 13, 1987. He died the way he wanted to, without being dependent on anyone till the last moment – (As told to Vijay Shekhar in 1994).
A poem written by his daughter on his birthday,
during the time when her daughter was critically
ill in the hospital.
“Hear Me Dad”
The path is dark,
Lend me your hand dear Father,
The path is misleading,
And I trust none other.
Life is never bare,
When you have someone who cares,
To come across someone like you, is therefore rare,
For nothing then is a nightmare.
Your principles are not wasted,
Within us, they are deeply pasted,
Your principles are our guidelines,
Which brings out in us, only that what is fine,
And ultimately, it surely makes us shine.
Things would no more be the same,
When you don’t shine,
For what then can “WE” call as “MINE”,
Mine to see and mine to love,
Never to be free, from this “BOND” full of love.
It is what all of us feel
For this brand of love, never carries a seal
To feel this feel of love
One has to be lucky
And with a father like ours
We never touch upon the word “UNLUCKY”.
Mrs. Hema Dhananjay Phatak