An accomplished actor who practised the dictum of less is more on stage and screens of all sizes, Vikram Gokhale (1945-2022) passed away in a Pune hospital following multi-organ failure. He is survived by his wife Vrushali and two daughters.
If acting is about creating the illusion of truth, Gokhale had perfected the art and perhaps that’s why he went on to win both the National Award and Sangeet Natak Akademi award for acting. Known for playing characters of authority that oozed dignity and honesty, he was often cast by filmmakers to build the bedrock for the hero to rise in films such as Khuda Gawah, Agnipath, Hum Dil Chuke Sanam, Natsamrat, and several others.
Equally effective in the popular as well as parallel cinema universes, Gokhale fetched the National Award when he was once again cast against type in the Marathi film Anumati (2013), where he conveyed the utter helplessness of an old man, Ratnakar, whose wife has slipped into a coma.
A raised eyebrow, a genteel smile and a baritone that could stand up to Amitabh Bachchan made Gokhale a special supporting actor. He made us believe that he could be the jailer Ranveer Singh who could catch Badhshah Khan in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. Gokhale started his career with a bit role in Bachchan’s Parwana (1971) and the two shared a special bond off-screen as well. Years later, he became the singing maestro, who would keep Aishwarya Rai and Salman Khan apart in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
Gokhale had eyes that could convey multiple emotions in one frame. He could be stern and vulnerable at the same time. Those who followed his trajectory, discovered it early when he played the father who gave wings to his daughter in the television serial Udaan that aired on Doordarshan in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, he became a doctor with a dark side in Alpviram. Years later, Gokhale directed a Marathi feature film, Aaghat (2010), a searing take on the medical profession, where he again played the lead role of a conflicted doctor.
Born in an illustrious family devoted to the arts but with modest means, Gokhale was a fourth-generation actor. His great-grandmother Durgabai Kamat is considered the first female actor in Indian cinema. Breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, she was introduced by the legendary Dadasaheb Phalke in Mohini Bhasmasur in 1913. Gokhale’s grandmother, Kamlabai Kamat, was the first female child actor in Indian cinema. His father, Chandrakant Gokhale, was a respected figure in the Marathi theatre circuit, who also featured in Hindi films. His uncle was the much-feted tabla maestro Pandit Lalji Gokhale.
Gokhale wanted to be a fighter pilot but fate had destined a different flight for him. Once his father’s friend offered him a role in his production, Gokhale got hooked on the arc lights but soon discovered that there is more to acting than repeating the same lines for money in commercial theatre.
Upon hearing Vijaya Mehta delivering a lecture on the nuances of a performance, a young Gokhale approached the doyenne of Indian theatre. After much persuasion, she agreed to take him as her disciple. The association lasted for more than four decades and resulted in a series of remarkable productions that became landmarks in Marathi theatre. Who could forget Barrister, the play where Mehta cast him as an upright legal professional who stood for gender equality? After almost three decades, Gokhale directed the play which opened to much applause. When his voice turned a tad huskier, he decided to withdraw from the stage but continued to work on films.
Somebody who believed in reciprocating the love he received from society, Gokhale ran a charitable organisation for disabled soldiers, and for education for the children of sex workers and lepers, and taught the science of dramaturgy to aspiring actors. Drawing from his early struggle, he would often say some bad patches in your life are your biggest teachers.