Mandakini*

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Mandakini Athavale ( Mai)

I did roles in Dadasaheb’ s two films, Krishna Janma and Kaliamardan. In Kaliamardan, he gave me the central role of Krishna. I was only six or seven years old, yet Dadasaheb said that only my maternal uncle should do my makeup, no one else. He did not like it if I mixed too much with the boys. He lovingly called me Sonu.

Dadasaheb got a short film made showing him, mother and us ( children) sauntering in a park. Before actually acting in films, he taught me how to show emotions like anger, love, joy, fear etc. and made me act accordingly. He would do it himself for me to see. At the time of actual shooting, he would do the acting and I would imitate him. When he said, ‘Go on,’ the camera would start and I would act out the scene. When he said ‘Stop’, the camera and my acting would stop. However I was not allowed to enter the studio at other times. After I got married at the age of fourteen, my association with the studio became less and less, even though I lived in Nashik!

Dada was a terror in the house. If any child made a mistake, he would immediately make him hold his big toes. Worse still, after the child bent over, he would place a utensil full fo water on his back. It must not shake a bit. If it did, more sever punishment would follow. This would give an idea of his nature.

He also petted me, appreciated me quite a lot. But if he got angry, he could not control himself. One day, I was acting out in front of his shaving mirror the emotions he had taught me himself. As he entered the room, he saw me, lost his temper and severely slapped me in the face. “What are you making faces for before the mirror?” he roared and warned, “ Look into the mirror only at the time of make-up, you understand? If I ever see you again before a mirror, I will give you a good hiding”.

Excerpted from Bapu Watve’s Dada Saheb Phalke, published by the National Book Trust in translation

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