TMKOC's Tanuj Mahashabde tries to revive Bhagavata Mela

Tanuj Mahashabde aka Mr Krishnan Iyer of Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah (TMKOC) is treading the path which others have abandoned. He is all up to resuscitate life into an ancient classical dance – “Bhagavata Mela” from “Kuchipudi” which is ironically on the throes of death.
According to few historians, after Mughal’s invasion of Andhra Pradesh, this form of art had lost royal patronage. Thus, there witnessed en mass migration of artists and dancers from there to deep-south at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Thanjavur was ruled by Maratha kings then who were great patrons of arts, dance and music. Under them, this art flourished.
Recently, this classical art form witnessed slow-death once again, majorly due to youngsters’ penchant for Bollywood kind of melody.
History says that the form of art was mostly practiced by Brahmins – where the male artist used to play the characters of female too. The play portrays dialogues by artists which are synchronized with traditional Indian dance- mudras or hastas.
Tanuj Mahashabde shares his experience in theatre and his Bhagavata Mela with Harsh Pancholi.
How did you enter the world of Arts and Theatre?
After completing my education in Marine Electronics, I was not interested to get an engineer’s job as most of my colleagues were doing then. It’s my hobby from my childhood to be an actor. Initially, my parents were against my decision to pursue acting, directing and writing, but somehow I managed to convince them. Today they feel proud of me.
Please share something about your journey portraying Vidhushak in Bhagavata Mela.
This is a Marathi play performed by people from Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) – in the diameter of Temple. Well, talking about my journey; I first stumble on Indu Raman Ji (Bharat Natyam Expert) who taught me the dance form and believed that I can perfectly play the role of Vidhushak. Performing the play in Mumbai and creating the atmosphere of Thanjavur was really a challenging task (he gasped). The experience of theatre, and especially essaying Vidhushak in Bhagwata Mela (where expressions are considered immutable part of this art form) -has helped me a lot in TMKOC.
As far as the commercial aspect is concerned, the production cost for such shows are too high. So, commercially it is not viable – but culturally it is greatly applauded.
What is your take on this fading talent of Bhagavata Mela?
It is true that such type of talent is vanishing nowadays in the country, but in Thanjavur, it is still celebrated during various festivals. The uniqueness is that the people there get education in the Tamil language. Despite having their mother tongue in Tamil, they portray the play in the Marathi language with an accent of Sanskrit and Konkani languages. Apart from that – the most challenging part is when a male person has to play female here. It happened to be quite awkward for me several times in rehearsals when my partner (male) was acting as a female.
How important is for an artist to have a theatre background before debuting in Bollywood or Television?
Well, that is all about destiny and luck. But, for me theatre remains an institution to achieve success. But that really doesn’t mean that someone can’t be successful if he\she is not a theatre artist. Theatre helps in honing your footwork, eye-contact and confidence, which are prerequisite for an actor.
I hail from Indore (Madhya Pradesh) and the population there speaks chaste Hindi – which the entertainment industry really expects from an artist. There is no doubt that regional artist is superb in their own way on stage – but when talking about national level – an artist should be absolutely perfect in Hindi and Urdu languages.
For me, the knowledge of Hindi and Urdu language helped me a lot in acting (Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah) and writing scripts.
Are there any other renowned actors whom you know have performed in Bhagavata Mela?
I have just heard about the great actress Jaya Pradha who has also performed in Bhagavata Mela.
Being a Marathi Brahmin, how challenging was for you to perform dance and convey a message to the audience?
Traditionally, this Thanjavur art is performed by Brahmins, and being a Marathi Brahmin, I was tempted to do this. But nowadays, people from other castes, too, act in such plays. Even my co-stars were not Brahmins – but they accepted the challenge and performed immaculately on the stage.
When did you perform last on stage?
I performed TMKOC play on a stage which was directed by my co-star Dilip Joshi (Jheta Lal). That was the last stage performance of mine. We performed the play in Ahmedabad, Gujarat – in those days when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state. Now, due to tight shooting schedules, I’m not able to perform on stage. Frankly speaking, I really want to perform back onstage and will surely do this in future.
Any message to new theatre artist and your fans.
Develop command over different languages; do theatres a lot which is actually an institute to hone your writing, directorial or acting skill. I thank my fans for loving and supporting my character as Krishnan Iyer in TMKOC since almost a decade.