BENGALURU: In 1951, actor-director Bhagwan Dada created a sensation with his blockbuster film Albela which was studded with perennial C Ramchandra musical gems like ‘Shola jo bhadke,’ ‘Shaam dhale khidki tale,’ and ‘Bholi soorat dil ke khote.’
Sixty-six years later, director Shekhar Sartandel has crafted a Marathi biopic on Bhagwan Dada called Ekk Albela which stars Mangesh Desai and has Vidya Balan in a cameo as Geeta Bali, Bhagwan’s heroine in Albela. Mangesh talks about his transformation into the 1950s star.
What was your reaction when you were offered the opportunity to play veteran actor Bhagwan Dada in the biopic Ekk Albela?
He was a Marathi who went into Hindi cinema and made a name, he became the badshah of Hindi cinema! I feel very privileged to have got the chance to play him. I have got this chance because of Shekhar saab. Ekk Albela traces the journey of Bhagwan Dada’s film career as an actor and director. Bhagwan Dada faced a lot of obstacles while making the musical Albela, which had Geeta Bali in the lead.
Were you familiar with Bhagwan Dada’s work before starting Ekk Albela?
I hadn’t seen any of his films as there isn’t much online, barring a newspaper article which highlights his plight towards the end of his life. Yes, I did hear his famous songs such as ‘Shola jo bhadke’ and ‘Bholi soorat dil ke khote.’
Will you try to reproduce his style of acting?
He was a natural actor but there were some melodramatic elements in his performance, which I’ve tried to imitate.
We see you ageing from young to old in the film. Have you used prosthetics?
Nope. Veteran make-up artiste Vidyadhar Bhatte gave me several different looks with only one wig. According to me, my eyes and cheekbones are a lot like Bhagwan Dada’s (smiles). For the scenes where I played the young Bhagwan Dada, I sucked in my stomach; and when the character aged I used body pads.
What was it like to have Vidya Balan play Geeta Bali?
I had seen Kahani and wished to work with her. Now my prayers have been answered.
How was she to interact with?
When she agreed to do this film, I was scared that she would overpower the film. But the day she came to the set, she made it very clear, ‘Don’t promote this film as Vidya Balan’s film. This is Mangesh’s film.’ Only an actor like Vidya will have the courage to do that.