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Updated: January 21, 2013 21:26 IST

Of text and subtext

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Not enough Is being done for the mentally ill in India, feels Agashe. Photo: Mohalled Yousuf
Not enough Is being done for the mentally ill in India, feels Agashe. Photo: Mohalled Yousuf

Theatre personality and well-known psychiatrist Mohan Agashe tells SRAVASTI DATTA that for him his psychiatry ward is a school of acting

Mohan Agashe, veteran theatre personality, even at age 65, continues to be a prolific film and theatre actor. Agashe, known for his powerful portrayal in films such as Trimurti, Paar, Gandhi and Apaharan and plays such as Ghashiram Kotwal, was in the city last week to perform in a Marathi play Katkon Trikon (Right-angled triangle), written by Vivek Bele and directed by Girish Joshi.

In the play, Agashe played the father-in-law and Inspector. Playing multiple roles in a single theatre production comes quite naturally to him. In the Lilette Dubey-directed Adhe Adhure, staged last year in the city, Agashe effortlessly played several characters. When asked how he achieves this, Agashe, a well-known psychiatrist too, jokes, “It is a case of multiple personality disorder. For me, my psychiatry ward is a school of acting.”

Agashe is impressed with the “remarkably written” Katkon Trikon. “It is thought-provoking and entertaining. It is socially relevant too because it underscores a point about senior citizens and the younger generation. The play depicts the difference in perspectives between in-laws and the wife. The playwright has put human emotions on a mathematical model. The wife, a mathematician, tells her husband that the structure of their family is triangular because there are three points—him, her and his father and this triangle keeps changing.”

Tracing the history of Marathi theatre, Agashe explains that Maharashtra was known for its socially-relevant plays and musical dramas. He adds that there has been a sudden revival of musical dramas or Sangeet Natak in Marathi theatre over the last five years, besides the staging of quite a few original productions. Citing films such as Deool, Valu, Shyamche Vadil- Ek Nave Parva, Harishchandrachi Factory, among others, Agashe says “In the last six years, I haven’t acted in Hindi films, only in Marathi films because they are so good. In the last decade, young Marathi directors have been making competent films.”

Agashe is critical of Bollywood and English theatre in India. “The world of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan is perhaps real to them, but for me it is a dream world. My lifestyle is middle-class. English theatre practitioners in India, with a few exceptions, rarely produce original work. They maybe well-versed with George Bernard Shaw, Chekhov and others but they don’t know much about Indian playwrights,” says the former director of Film and Television Institute, Pune.

Agashe was also one of the key note speakers at an International Conference: Who Am I? Conflicts of Gender and Culture Construct in our Interwoven Identities, held in Bangalore. Agashe, the founding director of Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health (MIHM), contends that not enough is being done for the mentally ill in the country. “There is no consistency. I was successful in convincing the Maharashtra Government to change policies. The MIHM was initially administered well. But today, it is like a neglected growing child.”

Agashe says that India lacks a political and administrative will, needed to run a government institute successfully. “Some people say that the solution is to start privately-run mental health Institutes, but then that won’t be affordable and accessible. The whole idea is to make mental health facilities affordable.”

Agashe doesn’t believe that the mental health treatment abroad can be compared with India. “The methods used are vastly different for several reasons that range from cultural and economic. Frankly, there is no comparison because it is so complex. Many people from abroad come to developing countries to understand why the outcomes for schizophrenia are better. Emotional support systems come from the joint family system. In India, families don’t live together, but in crisis they come together.”

Agashe believes that the basic upbringing in India differs from that of the West. “Emotions are considered sacred in India. In the West, you are trained to verbalise your emotions. Here, you are asked to contain your emotions; the sign of maturity is how successfully you conceal your emotions, not express your emotions. Indian women, in fact, are far more resilient.”

Does he bring his knowledge of psychiatry to acting? Agashe says: “More than psychiatry helping me in the world of acting, the world of acting has helped me in psychiatry. In acting, more than text, subtext is important. So when you are saying your text, you also need to communicate subtext, which includes tone of your voice, the pause you take etc.”

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