P. L. (PuLa) Deshpande
A highly accomplished litterateur who reached the pinnacle of creativity in the fields of literature, music, plays, movies and oration and who has created a permanent place in the hearts of Marathi aficionados
PuLa Deshpande endeared himself to every Maharashtrian across the globe. PuLa, whose full name is Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, is one name that brought out the highest degree of respect, emotion, love and pride in the heart of the common man. Words fall short in describing this literary genius, a multi-faceted personality whose writing was equally versatile. He had established command over various types of literature like essay, critique, play, parody, one-act play, translation, screenplay, biography and contemplative literature. His repertoire includes a biography on Mahatma Gandhi, study of the Bengali language and a translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems. Literature, music composition, drama, oration, acting … PuLa became the unofficial emperor of every avenue of art that he ventured into. He achieved poPuLarity and success in a wide range of fields like acting in movies, one-act plays, playing the harmonium, narrating stories, presenting ones own literature, drama and script writing, direction and presenting poems, thus proving his high calibre.
His journey into the field of literature began with his first parody, Ajoba Harle (Grandfather Lost). Later, he took his readers on a virtual journey through his PoorvaRanga and Apoorvai, introduced them to various personalities through Vyakti Ani Valli, made the happenings and characters of Batatyachi Chaal seem like a part of one’s own household, brought alive the poetry of Mardhekar - Arti Prabhu - Borkar through soulful renditions of the same. Thus, PuLa, famous for his punch lines, created a permanent place for himself in the hearts of aficionados.
PuLa wrote a total of fourteen one-act plays. He also wrote excellent plays like Tee Fulrani, Tuzha Ahe Tuzhapaashee and Sundar Mee Honaar. He made a mark in the fields of directing plays and acting too. Amaldaar was the first play that he transcreated; translation or transcreation was another of his various talents. While trancreating from foreign languages, he adroitly gave the transcreated version an Indian, Marathi flavour. He was seen on the silver screen for the first time in 1947, in the movie Kuber. PuLa proved his versatility in films too, by playing different roles such as dialogue writer, director, script writer, singer, actor and music composer. His movie Gulacha Ganpati became famous as an all-out PuLa movie. His movie career flourished until the movie Ek Hotaa Vidushak in 1993. His dialogues in this movie touched everyone’s heart and gave an experience of his in-born, high calibre talent.
His skill in playing the harmonium, inculcated through his training under Dattopant Rajyopadhyay of Bhaskar Sangeetalaya, is another of his multiple facets. He accompanied such great singers such as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Vasantrao Deshpande and Mallikarjun Mansur on the harmonium. Audio clips of his harmonium performances are available today.
PuLa had an amazing talent for successful presentation. His expressions, succinct use of words, body language, throw of voice and his command over his voice made his presentations captivating. His renditions of Batatyachi Chaal, Vaaryaavarchi Varaat, Asaa mee Asaa mee display his talents as a performer. His renditions of literature, playing the instrument, singing, drama and oration … all of it was astounding.
PuLa was never attracted by politics. But the Emergency of 1975 (declared by the Congress Party) brought satire into his oration and comedy. In those days, he translated and published Jaiprakash Narayan’s Prison Diary. After the emergency, PuLa delivered many speeches in favour of the Janata Party as a part of their election campaign. For a brief period, the soldier in PuLa jumped into politics to fight against the Emergency.
His literature brings out his immense observation skills, his engaging conversational writing style, command over Marathi and Sanskrit, richness of context, fluid language, novelty and poignancy. Like his literature, his oration too is rich in context. His literature is replete with Sanskrit proverbs, ancient scriptures like Ved-Puran, saint literature, sayings and idioms, contexts of different cultures and ethos. This renders his presentation a class above the ordinary.
No one could match the genuineness and enthusiasm with which PuLa encouraged newcomers into the fields of literature, drama and music. The now famous artist Bhakti Barve Inamdar had this experience during her stage performance of the drama Tee Fulrani. Asha Khadilkar, a senior singer, had a similar experience when he called her up at 11 PM to appreciate a song that he had just heard her sing. It was also PuLa who passionately appreciated the recording of young music composer Salil Kulkarni’s songs for children. Again, it was PuLa who first wrote about the Muslim social worker Hamid Dalwai, bringing a thus far unknown great personality into the limelight. He was one among the few who can recognise good things in a person and take efforts to spread the word.
Very few might be aware of PuLa’s generosity. Actively satisfying one’s social obligation, PuLa and his wife Sunitabai easily and generously helped many social organizations and social activists like Baba Amte, Anil Avchat, Baba Adhav, Hamid Dalwai etc., without any fanfare. With help from his wife, he established the PuLa Deshpande Foundation. Through this foundation, he provided financial support for
1. converting the best literature into Braille for the blind,
2. Nihar – a shelter for children of prostitutes,
3. children affected by the Koyna earthquake,
4. science laboratory in a rural area.
5. Asiatic Society in Mumbai.
His invaluable contributions to the world of art brought him the honour of being the first recipient of the Maharashtra Bhushan Award. He is also the recipient of the PunyaBhushan, Padmashri, PadmaBhushan, Sangeet Natak Academy Award and the Sahitya Academy Award. Receiving awards from the States of Madhya Pradesh, Calcutta and Goa too, this Marathi litterateur crossed geographical, language and cultural boundaries.
His perception towards life – in his own words ‘there is no parallel in the world to observing a living human being’ - enriches our lives. One can clearly see the strong influence of the two great personalities, Charlie Chaplin and Rabindranath Tagore, both of whom strived to make life beautiful, on PuLa’s life and his expression. He has been called the Wodehouse of Maharashtra. This literary genius, who brought happiness into the lives of innumerable people, expired on 12th June, 2000. He continues to live in the hearts of people.