A Barrister's tribute to the Doctor

Vikram Gokhle, now a septuagenarian, is inimitably brimming with earthy enthusiasm. His eyes light up at the mere mention of Dr. Shreeram Lagoo. It's hardly a surprise that his tribute to the legendary thespian rings truer than the deep-frozen gratitude offered by most of his contemporaries. I drove down to Mumbai for a delightful tete-a-tete with the veteran actor in the bustling living room of his Vile Parle residence.

Gokhle recalls a felicitation event in Pune where he spoke extempore about Dr. Lagoo's contribution to theatre and films, going against the diktat of answering pre-decided questions posed by celebrity anchor Sudhir Gadgil. Impressed with Gokhle's succinct observations on his performances, Dr. Lagoo remarked: "It's rarely that we see an actor closely analyzing the work of another actor. I am happy to be in the company of such thinking individuals." Later, Gokhle told the thespian that he had been a keen student of Lagoo's body of work right from Gokhle's college days. What followed was a deep bond between the two that lasted till the very end. 

Gokhle has another fond memory: "During our overseas tours organized by Suyog's Sudhir Bhat, Dr. Lagoo would invariably say: Sudhir, any flight, any seat would do, just see to it that my co-passenger is Vikram. We utilized these travel times to discuss theatre and films, as also to analyze the work of other artistes. I invariably gathered rich insights from every interaction with him."                 

Gokhle was particularly floored by Dr. Lagoo's sense of discipline, "Not many know that the Doctor diligently worked on his voice to override the minuses (his voice cracked the moment he raised his voice) and enhance the plusses. Being a qualified ENT surgeon, the science was already known to him, but he even mastered the art over time to identify the right pitch which is now synonymous with his name and what people erroneously believe to be a God gift."     

Of course, not every conversation with the thespian was about serious issues. "We had our lighter moments, and lots of them", Gokhle chuckles. "Once when I gifted him a book, he grimaced with a playful retort, "Oh! Not a book again, I thought you would bring me a 'bottle' this time round, I could do with a few hearty drinks than pore over fat books of fine print."

One of Gokhle's biggest regrets is of having missed the opportunity of sharing stage space with Dr. Lagoo. "I was Lagoo's co-artiste in few films, but theatre has its own charm, especially when you have Dr. Lagoo  
by your side."

Gokhle feels the theatre and film fraternity should observe a few minutes of introspective silence in Dr. Lagoo's memory rather than offering perfunctory tributes. "Actually, we must build a theatre auditorium in his name, where deserving aspirants can rehearse and stage their performances. Given Dr. Lagoo's temperament, he would have been the happiest to lend his name to a larger cause, befitting his stature as one of India's finest actors."       

We hope and pray Gokhle garners the support of like-minded individuals and institutions to make his dream come true. We also hope he himself resolves to make better use of his deep, penetrative eyes, winning smile, and magnificent stage and screen presence to portray powerful characters of enduring significance.

Given the legacy he carries - of his illustrious grandmother and father - and given his formative schooling at Rangayan, he is undoubtedly capable of bigger and better performances, like his unforgettable 'barrister' who has been immortalized by Jayawant Dalvi's potent prose and Vijaya Mehta's deft direction. As for his Rangayan contemporaries, both celebrities and commoners, they must get back to school to gainfully study Dr. Lagoo's gem of a book 'Vachik Abhinay' cover to cover, if not Peter Brook's 'Empty space'. The effort will pay rich dividends for sure.