Marathi theatre took form as early as 1843, flourishing in Mumbai and Pune. At the beginning this vibrant legacy relied heavily on folk art forms like Tamasha (plays dominated by song and dance) and Sangeet Natak (musical drama) and telling stories from epics.
Over the years it has had an eclectic transformation from the mythical to the real. Stalwarts such as Bal Gandharva, P. L. Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Satish Alekar have used it as a tool to not only entertain but inspire and shake society of its worm ridden stupor.
Today, the new breed of Marathi theatre makers carry the torch forward. They are young, bold and have a strong socio-political voice that mirrors the boons and banes of the current Indian society. Up to date with global theatrical trends they are experimenting like never before, incorporating innovative tools and concepts. Creating a Stage Culture of their own.
Here’s a sneak peek into the contemporary Marathi theatre world. Groups that are creating ripples in the country and across the world.
Awishkar’s repertoire boasts of a celebratory list of artists: Sreeram Lagoo, Mohan Agashe, Rohini Hattangadi, Nana Patekar, Sachin Khedekar and Urmila Matondkar. Founded by late veteran actress Sulabha Deshpande and her husband Arvind Deshpande in 1971, it has had Vijay Tendulkar at the helm of its writing department, their first production being Tendulkar’s iconic play Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe. Best described by its current artistic and managerial head, Arun Kakade, “Awishkar has been a lab where 80 percent of the Marathi theatre and film artists have been honed and created.”
Aasakta Kalamanch, Pune
Started in 2003, Aasakta, spearheaded by director Mohit Takalkar, translates works from different languages and turns them into visual thrills. Whether it be original works by budding Indian playwrights, adaptation of plays by stalwarts like Mahesh Elkunchwar and Girish Karnad or works of contemporary British playwrights like Martin Crimp. Known for plays like Uney Purey Shahar Ek, Garbo and Tu among others, Aasakta has also established a platform for play and poetry readings called ‘Ringan’. They also perform Hindi plays and their most recent- Gajab Kahaani was commissioned by Aadyam.
Natak Company, Pune
Born out of one of the many inter-collegiate competitions in Pune, Natak Company is a prolific theatre group run by a bunch of enthusiastic and free spirited youngsters, who started off with the intention of experimenting with aesthetics and textures on stage. In a span of seven years, Natak Company has around 25 productions most of which are youth oriented stories, written and directed by members of the group. Their critically acclaimed play Geli Ekvees Varsha, written by Dharmakirti Sumant and directed by Alok Rajwade, won the special jury award at the International Youth Theatre Festival in Italy. Their other popular plays are Dalan, Mi…Ghalib and Chakra, the last of which was performed at a festival in Czech Republic.
Prominent face of Marathi experimental theatre, award winning writer-director-actor, Atul Pethe gave birth to his baby ‘Natakghar’ five years ago. He started with two very clear mottos – study of performing arts and experimenting with it. Hence, it is open to anyone and everyone who is willing to abide. Known for propagating Protest Theatre, Atul devised Ringan Natya, a form of theatre which brought together 250 artists to perform songs and short plays strengthening the ideologies of slain social activist Narendra Dabholkar after his assassination. In protest of his killing, the performances took place at the very spot where Dabholkar was murdered. On the other hand, his aptly named 15 minute solo play Protest is a ‘bloody’ way of saying no to intolerance, insensitivity and inequality in our society.
Ashwamedh Theatre, Nashik
Rainmaker, Pani Puri, Something Grey, Bloody Pages, Eastman Colour and Midnight Show are some of Ashwamedh Theatre’s popular productions. And no, it’s not an English theatre group. The members of this group simply like to use English metaphors as their titles. Started in 2004, by a bunch of friends with a shared passion for theatre, Ashwamedh has been relentlessly participating in festivals and competitions across the country with more than 50 productions in their kitty. Mostly original works created by the group, their plays are mainly youth oriented.
Theatron Entertainment, Pune
A bunch of youngsters from different colleges came together to create Theatron Entertainment in 2002. Since then, they have been performing plays in English, Hindi and Marathi. Each of their productions offering something interestingly different with respect to genre and treatment. While their Hindi play Bhanvar has been the official selection at the International Youth Theatre Festival Vreme in Bulgaria this year, their Marathi play Ketta Katha has been performed at the NCPA Theatre Festival in Mumbai. On the other hand, their horror comedy Anathema is a hot favourite in the Pune theatre circles.
Who needs dialogues when you have your body? The nine-year-old theatre group ‘Dhyaas’, founded by Shrikant Bhide, specialises in physical theatre. Dhyaas’ plays spread awareness about the environment through an effective usage of the body. It’s visually compelling play The Transparent Trap was an intense comment on our hazardous use of plastic, while its recent production The Last Color…! is a story of the last tiger left on earth. Not restricting itself to physical theatre though, Dhyaas’ two act play Parvana – an adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ bestseller book The Breadwinner – won the 54th Maharashtra State Drama Competition 2014 in Pune. It’s repertoire of seven plays have toured almost everywhere from West Bengal to Turkey.