Padma Shri recipient Pran Sabharwal a household name in Punjab theatre

New Delhi:  Pran Sabharwal, the 93-year-old recipient of the Padma Shri, is a veteran Punjabi theatre actor with over 5,000 performances spanning over seven decades and a household name in the state.

Settled in Patiala town, Sabharwal’s artistic journey prospered with the inspiration of Hindi cinema doyen Prithviraj Kapoor.

With no formal training in acting, Sabharwal carved his niche in theatre and radio.

In a recent interview, Sabharwal recalled his encounter with his role model Prithviraj Kapoor in 1952, and how his advice to pursue acting in Punjabi became a turning point in his lustrous career.

For Sabharwal and his wife Sunita, who is six years younger than him, life starts and ends on the stage.

They have been actively involved in promoting and teaching drama and promoting the Punjabi language through theatre, radio and films, both in India and abroad. The cou­ple has been run­ning Na­tional The­atre Artists So­ci­ety (NTAS) since 1952 and is presently im­part­ing train­ing to bud­ding artistes free of cost to keep the theatre alive.

Sabharwal now rues the theatre has just become confined to competitions in educational institutes with limited audiences.

“None of the institutes is making any effort to keep the theatre, an art form, alive. Even the government is not promoting it,” he is often quoted as saying.

He feels proud to share the Padma Shri with Nirmal Rishi, 80, with whom he had worked in the play “Paisa Bolta Hai”.

Born in Jalandhar on December 9, 1930, Sabharwal retired from the state-run Punjab State Electricity Board and shifted his base to Patiala in 1988.

“I have dedicated my life to theatre and will continue to do so till my last breath. Nurturing young talent is our passing,” he believes.

His journey to theatre began in childhood when he used to perform in Ramlilas. “I still remember when my father, and elder brother, who lived in Lahore, used to ask me to act in the Ramlila,” he said.

For him, theatre is a medium which helps the artiste convey a message strongly to the audience.

He’s one of the founder faculty members of the Department of Speech, Drama, and Music at Punjabi University in Patiala.

He gives credit to his better half for his passion. “If Sunita wasn’t in my life, I wouldn’t have sur­vived the­atre for so long. She’s the one who looked after all the­atre ac­tiv­i­ties when I was busy with my of­fice commitments,” he revealed. She also wrote and directed “Bal Ramayana” in 1980.

Currently, the couple has been staging monthly theatre episodes at the Baradari Gardens in Patiala.


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