Makarand Deshpande is a dreamer. Mak, as he is known, dreams up stories with effortless ease. Sometimes too many, and all at the same time. His mop of grey and white hair tilts to the left as he sheepishly confesses that he is quite self-destructive. He kills his previous production by staging a new one too soon after it. Satyadev Dubey has warned him about this, but Mak, driven by endless cups of tea and innumerable cigarettes, hasn’t listened yet. He follows his urge, an urge that stems from his need for excitement, variety and experimentation in a given space. Besides, there aren’t enough theatres to stage his plays simultaneously. And he doesn’t want to let such hurdles obstruct the course of his evolution, as an individual and a theatre person. This inspires skepticism and intrigue in equal measure, amongst critics and his audience.
Prithvi Theatre and Sanjna Kapoor have driven and supported him for the past five years. Prior to this, he believes, his work was ‘too dense’ in terms of structure and concepts. His work was too layered; his audience too perplexed. He is still unconventional in his approach but things are different now. He does not have walkouts, nor are his houses sparse. His work doesn’t try to work through seven different concepts in the space of a single play. Clear and transparent with his ideas, he has evolved from a universal approach to a finite, well-defined one. Audiences reflect and react as he examines “the socio-political and economic impact on psychological landscapes.” Those who don’t quite comprehend the proceedings initially, are drawn back to a second, even third viewing. His plays may be about myth, fantasy, reality and the absurd; but they work with the audience. His work is involving— finally.
Mak is open to criticism, which he receives in plenty from people within the fraternity. Sanjna playfully chides him for the use of grammatically incorrect English, which he takes rather sportingly.
This 33-year-old actor-director brims with energy and enthusiasm. He begins, in a theatrically contemplative drawl, to explain the concept of his current production Laila, which debuted at the Prithvi Theatre Festival to overwhelming acclaim. He has cast a vibrant bunch of promising, energetic youngsters. He carries on to his own philosophy. “I am not worried about failure. I’m not competing with anyone, only myself.” This restless man has a need to focus his energy on the subject of his passion and looks for fresh faces and fresh conversations that stimulate his creative process.
Deshpande is a juggler. He juggles concepts; he’s juggling theatre, television and film. Recently, he played a crucial part in Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya and is currently awaiting the release of Sunhil Sippy’s Snip, in which he plays a Muslim auto-rickshaw driver with great conviction. “With a face like this, I can pass for a member of any community except a Gujju,” he smiles.
The small screen has been quite unfair in casting him as the stereotypical bad guy. But it pays his bills and helps sustain his career in his first love, the theatre. Theatre is purely an individual pursuit, a mode of expression that contributes to his personal growth. This, of course, works out for talented youngsters who help him transform his ideas into reality, onstage and behind the scenes. They love him out here at Prithvi. One young fan published an ode to him in the Prithvi newsletter!
He has his indulgences, and his beliefs. Despite his middle-class Marathi background, Makarand holds a fondness for the Hindi stage. He is a believer, in destiny and in God. And even though he believes that death terminates body and soul, his next production delves into a romantic relationship between a rich man and a ‘lady ghost.’ He has other ideas. He’d like to write a novella. “Pen down a few character sketches, not a complete novel. I’m good at that. But I will need someone to translate it into English,” he says with a faraway look in his eyes. The man knows his abilities and his limits. He is comfortable with himself.
His reputation sits easily on him. His command over his medium is complete. He prefers to orchestrate the lighting and the music himself while the play is in progress. He taps his feet and jiggles his body in his characteristic style, oblivious to amused onlookers. This man’s belief in himself has made Mak a name to reckon with among theatre lovers.
This article was first published in May 2000