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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.


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BY Ali Peter John
The eighties saw a sudden spurt in TV serials made for Doordarshan and there was no competition for Doordarshan . Among the notable serials were two made on the epics , “Ramayan” and “Mahabharat” ,” Dekh bhai dekh” , “Karamchand” , “Fauji” and “Circus” in which Shahrukh Khan arrested the attention of the entire country . But , the one serial which came as a big surprise and took the country by storm was “Rajani “, directed by Basu Chatterjee who had earlier created a stir in Indian cinema with films like” Saara Akash”, “Rajnigandha”and “Chhoti si baat”.
Rajni, was a fictitious character created by Basu Chatterjee , a brave young woman who is neither a social activist nor a crusader or a fighting Journalist , but an ordinary every day womam who cannot stand corruption and fights against this evil , mostly single-handed and sometimes with her husband and sometimes with the aam aadmi . Basu Chatterjee wanted the star Padmini Kholapure to play the title role, but ultimately settled for younger daughter of the well-known theatre and film writer Padmabhushan Priya Tendulkar the younger daughter of Padmabhushan Vijay Tendulkar and what a choice he had made !
Sunday after Sunday, people stayed at home to watch the exploits of the daring Mrs.Rajni Prabhakar and she became a cult figure among all classes of people and with people of every community who could identify her character as a part of their own families , who fought the battle they could only imagine fighting and they felt a great thrill when they saw her fight and win .
She was seen fighting against corruption at all levels of life , problems like dealing with corrupt politicians , the corruption that goes on in schools , women issues, colleges , hospitals and everywhere she found corruption being accepted as the way of life. The serial became so popular that all the politicians and people in high places made it a point to watch Rajani and then discuss her exploits in their offices for the next few days and Sunday came back again with Rajani in action tackling corruption in another area of life .
The serial was made on a shoe -string budget and with actors who were not so popular , except for the episode on corruption in the period of acting in Hindi films. For which Shah Rukh Khan was approach for support which he gave without asking any questions and not expecting any money, who could afford to pay a star like him his price for a few hours of shooting ? the others who worked in this episode were the late filmmaker and Industry leader , Shaktisamanta and Subhash Ghai .
The very first episode of Rajani focused on medical issues and I still remember it now , thirty five years later because it almost seemed like the situation we are facing now.The only difference is that the episode talked about plague and not Corona Virus !
The episode showed how people reacted to an epidemic (now we have a pandemic). It also shows how people in a slum react, how doctors react, how chemists and grocers react. The causes and symptoms of the plague are explained by doctors and Priya’s character shows how there was a need for good hygiene and above all good character and discipline in the times of an epidemic. I was trying to remember as many scenes as possible and realised that the episode on plague was so similar to the one we are living in now and was almost like a prediction of the times to come .
The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was so impressed with Priya’s performance as Rajani that he found time to invite Priya and her family to have breakfast with him and his family at his official residence in Delhi. Priya’s mother who was a very simple woman who did not even no how great her husband was , went up to Rajiv Gandhi and asked him why he was working so hard and advised him to spent more time with his family . No one must have talked to a Prime Minister like that and that is why Rajiv must have laughed , something he has not done for a long .
And now when DD and even the government is being slammed for the re-telecast of Ramayan and Mahabharat , I wonder if they will re-telecast Rajani. Ramayan and Mahabharat are based on fantasy about the land of the Gods about which people know very little about and are happy being taken on a ride to a land which is so far away from the grim and harsh realities of life .But Rajani could make the powers that we uncomfortable to a very large extent tells the truth and truth is what our politicians try to run away from .
If the government at the center can ask DD to re-telecast the Ramayan and Mahabharat it would to them a world of good if they also took a decision to re-telecast Rajani. But do they have the guts to face the realities of life ? They could save their own faces by showing the many faces of Rajani which has not changed much in the last thirty-five years.
Priya was born in the middle class Maharashtrian family of the venerated writer and theatre personality , Vijay Tendulkar .
She went to a Marathi Medium school called the Paranjape Vidhayalya opposite her house in a building called Badri Dham where she lived with her parents , two sisters and a brother.
She was not interested in pursuing her studies and joined the Oberoi Hotel ,a five- star hotel as a waitress she couldn’t take the way women were treated and left the job but not before raising her voice in protest . She next joined Air India as Air-hostess and traveled the world and even met the Pope . But she saw the face of corruption year two and threw away the job.
She was a great admirer of her father and her actress -sister Sushma . She did not let her father know that she was interested in acting or writing. There was a play called “Kanyadaan” in which Sushma was the main actress . Sushma couldn’t reach for a performance of the play and Priya assured her father that she would go on stage and perform as she knew all the lines. A worried father gave her permission and after that show Priya Tendulkar the actress was born and she never looked back.
She took to writing and wrote books like
Panchatariket and “Jayachatyacha Trashna Prashna “and other books and won the government Maharashtra of awards for best writing thrice in a row .
After the success of Rajani she did some Hindi , Marathi and Gujarati films . In Subhash Ghai’s “Trimurti”she played the mother of Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Shah Rukh Khan a film which big flop and her performance was panned by every critic and today Ghai done even mention the film which was incidentally written by her husband Karan Razdan .
She came into her own when she produced , directed and hosted “The Priya Tendulkar show” In which she again tackled social issues .
According to me who had been following her like an carrier , the only mistake she made was her getting married Karan Razdan they had a loveless marriage and it finally led to a separation.
She had many other plans for the future , but cancer put an end to all her plans . One afternoon , she died of a heart attack when she was only thirty four.
Was the Tendulkar family Jinxed? if you read further , you will know .The first to die was Raju Tendulkar ,a brilliant cinematographer he died . When he was only twenty eight leaving behind a beautiful young widow and a son . Priya’s mother died after being in coma for years . Her sister, Sushma died off cirrhosis of the liver and a Christian Priest Fr. Joe gave her a Hindu funeral with all the Hindu rites .The widow of Raju is said to have an affair with the husband of Priya’s sister, Tanuja, who was a Judge of the Bombay High Court . Priya herself died and she was followed by her father .
Strange, not even “Badri Dham” survives and when last seen looked like an old Kabristan. The only witness to the Tendulkar family is Tanuja , the younger sister of Priya .What does one say about a very eerie story like this to which I have been a close witness and with whom I had very close encounters of an emotional kind for several years ?

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