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Jaishankar Bhudhardas Bhojak, (30 January 1889 – 22 January 1975) better known by his theatre name Jaishankar ‘Sundari’ , is an Indian actor and director of Gujarati theatre.
He was born in the family of Bhojak, the performing caste of Brahmins, in Undhai near Visnagar on 30 January 1889. However, his family members were traditionally involved in performing arts and singing. He studied up to second standard. He was trained in performing arts and singing by his grandfather, Tribhuvandas who himself was trained by Ustad Fakhruddin. He was also trained in music by Pandit Vadilal Nayak.[
He started his career by joining Dadabhai Thuthi’s Urdu performing art company in Calcutta in 1897. Later he joined Chotalal Kapadia’s Mumbai Gujarati Natak Mandali in 1901. Along with Gujarati, he also performed in Hindi and Urdu languages. He mainly performed as a female impersonator as females were not allowed in theatres in those times.
He played role of Desdemona as a female impersonator in Saubhagya Sundari, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello by Parsi theatre in Bombay. It was successful and Jaishankar was nicknamed Sundari. He also performed as a female lead opposite Bapulal Nayak several times. He along with Bapulal brought Govardhanram Tripathi’s Saraswatichandra, plays of Nrisinh Vibhakar and Mulshankar Mulani. He retired in 1932 and returned to Visnagar.
He was active in Ahmedabad from 1948 to 1962 as a director in theatre. Later he organised a performing troupe and theatre school, Natamandal with Rasiklal Parikh and Ganesh Mavlankar. He revived Bhavai, the traditional performing art form, by directing Mithyabhiman, a satirical play by Dalpatram. They produced several plays like Mena Gujri in 1953 which he synthesized Bhavai and Beijing Opera.
He died on 22 January 1975 at Visnagar, Gujarat
He received the Ranjitram Suvarna Chandrak in 1951; which is considered the highest literary award in Gujarati literature. In 1957, Rajendra Prasad presented him with the highest Indian recognition given to practicing artists – the President’s award, now called the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for drama direction. In 1963, he was elected chairman for the Department of Arts at Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. He was felicitated by Gujarat Rajya Sangeet Nrutya Akademi in 1967. President V. V. Giri awarded him with the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India in 1971
His autobiography Thoda Aansu, Thoda Ful was in part written and in part dictated to his son Dinkar Bhojak and Somabhai Patel over a period of four years. It was first published in 1976. It was adopted as part of the syllabus at the Master of Arts course level at Gujarat University. Thoda Aansu, Thoda Ful was reprinted in 1989 in an expanded version.
In 2002, the older edition was translated into Hindi as Kuchh Aansu, Kuchh Phool by Dinesh Khanna and published by the National School of Drama. In 2011, it was translated into English as Some Blossoms, Some Tears.
Jaishankar Sundari’s memory is preserved in the form of “Jaishankar Sundari Natyagrah” – a drama theatre named after him in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
The Bhavai Government Museum in Vadnagar, North Gujarat contains his exhibition and a description of his work.
Jaishankar Sundari’s oil painted portrait was unveiled by the Kala Mandal of Morbi and adorns the halls of the Kala Mandir in Saurashtra.
The play Sundari : An Actor Prepares based on his autobiography was produced in 1998.