‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’
This quote from Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’ has mesmerised thespians throughout history. But what of those who are not performers, are they less worthy? Frequenters at Dadar’s Shivaji Natya Mandir do not think so and decided to felicitate Balloo Vasker, a tea vendor with a 30-year history at the theatre. Sandeep Hattangadi speaks to the veteran about his experiences
Everyone loves a good play and appreciates all the men visible in the foreground. Actors, directors and playwrights; but have you ever wondered that there might be so many people behind the curtain who contribute towards behind the making of a successful play?
One such worker who has conscientiously worked at the prestigious Shivaji Natya Mandir in Dadar is Balloo Vasker aka Chaiwalla. He will be felicitated at the Akhil Bharatiya Natya Parishad on June 17 for his selfless and meritorious service towards drama workers over 30 years.
Balloo works in the Shivaji Mandir canteen and provides tea to the cast and crew of the dramas held there. Balloo, who hails from a village near Kolhapur, reminisced about his experiences whilst speaking of serving tea to theatre greats like Prabhakar Panshikar and Kashinath Ghanekar.
Some of Balloo’s former customers include Sulabha Deshpande, Lalan Sarang, Kamlakar Sarang, Satish Dubhashi, Reema Lagoo and Madhukar Toradmal, while his present clientele include the likes of Bharat Jadhav, Makarand Anaspure, Sharad Ponkshe, Umesh Kamath and Subodh Bhave. He recalls that veteran actor Reema Lagoo had to have tea prepared by him only and would start her act only after having his tea. He also mentions Prashant Damle. The senior actor has ‘batata vadas’ only with his tea which was also his favorite.
But Balloo is unhappy with the way things are going now with actors running after fame and money. He misses the familiar nature of relationships he had with directors like Sai Paranjape and Vijaya Mehta.
Balloo is also on good terms with Nana Patekar who he knows since his initial foray into acting.
But Balloo is upset about the quality of plays that are churned out today and says his all time favorites are To Mee Navhech starring Prabhakar Panshikar and Garambicha Bapu starring Kashinath Ghanekar. Balloo himself harboured acting ambitions but failed due to illiteracy. “Theatre can never die because it is the first love of any Marathi speaking person,” states Balloo claiming that he may not watch the latest Marathi film but will definitely watch the latest play. Baloo says that he regrets that there are no plays with good topical subjects or good performances but rates new plays like Katkon Trikon and Nava Gadi Nava Rajya as good and well written. He also rates Mee Revati Deshpande highly. He regrets that there is no monetary benefit for ageing thespians or behind the scenes workers like him. But Balloo is happy that he can watch all the famous plays from close quarters without paying for the ticket. He feels that the government should aid the backstage workers who are in penury and no one to look after them after all the hard work they have done over the years.
Baloo also has no intentions of retiring from his present job as he is very much happy and satisfied with his work.He had quit two times but by the request of all his well wishers in the fraternity he came back to his usual duties much to the appreciation of the theaters management.He had already got a call for jobs in government service which he didn’t accept.
Balloo dreams of producing a play someday and that will have the likes of Nana Patekar. He says he is very happy in coming close to all the actors and directors and the other department people on a one to one level and most of them are very friendly towards him. As for producers, he cites the names of Sudhir Bhatt and Gopal Algeri as a very good production house which is known as ‘Suyog’. When asked why he didn’t venture into his own canteen business, he says that he could have done it any time because finance was not the problem but he was very happy with the salary he was getting now and has educated his daughter upto Standard XII, so he has no regrets and says whimsically that ‘Marathi manoos’ is not made for business.
Balloo Vasker is a small man with a big heart!