5 November marks a very special day in the history of arts. It was on this day in the year 1843 A.D. that the first Marathi play was performed in District Sangli of Maharashtra (then a princely state). Created by a man called Vishnupant Bhave, the play was titled 'Sita Swayamvar' and took the first flight of a culture that's still soaring 173 years later!
I don't have a direct connection to the Marathi Theatre scene. I can't even claim to be a tiny dispensable part of it, like I thankfully believe I can with English plays. When I see my peers now actively becoming a part of regional plays and hanging out with actors and directors I have grown up idolising, I can't help but feel a tinge of envy and longing. Which is why it also gives me a sense of joy to have something in common with the man who made the first Marathi play, even if it's something as silly a last name.
Today is 5 November and in honor of the day, since christened Marathi Stage Day, I am going to list 7 things that shaped my love and belief in Maharashtrian Theatre.
1. P. L. Deshpande
This man will probably top most lists I write. The creator of gems like Batatyachi Chawl and Vyakti Aani Valli, he is the master of storytelling and an institution in himself. Narrations of his writing, in his own voice continue to be a constant on playlist. His adaptation of My Fair Lady is something the entire theatre-watching community swears by. Most of my sense of humour and the comfort level I have with my awkward self stems from this man. Earlier this year, I had to colour my hair grizzly and wear a kurta for a play. With my overgrown curly hair, specs and tummy love, the make-up man told me I looked like Pu. La. Deshpande. There couldn't have been a more thrilling moment! If only I could write more like him...
I didn't discover Tendulkar until a couple of years ago. I first read Sakharam Binder in Hindi and then Ghashiram Kotwal in English but it was only until I saw version of these by Chandrakant Kulkarni that I finally seemed to grasp a little of what that man wrote. I attempted to break down Sakharam Binder to it's core and even managed to pen stuff down but I wonder if I will ever be able to be even a percent of what this man was. If only, if only.
3. Chandrakant Kulkarni
And that brings us to this legend. In my last article, I wrote about watching two of his plays. The very day before I watched Wada though, I watched the masterpiece that is Aashad Bar. The play puts three famous playwrights - Kalidas, Shudrak and Mohan Rakesh in a bar with a fiction fourth playwright. The entire two act play takes place in one Bar and yet somehow Kulkarni manages to paint us a new painting in every frame. His directorial versions of Tendulkar's Sakharam Binder and Silence! The Court Is In Session are both available online and make for a fine watch. The last original he did, Get Well Soon did not do a very long run, but has to go down our history as a modern classic. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say, every piece of work by Chandrakant Kulkarni is a masterclass in direction.
4. Prashant Damle
This list can't go down without a mention of Marathi Theatre's favorite funnyman, Prashant Damle. Damle can give most comedians, actors and singers a run for their money with his chubby adorable self. No matter who he's cast opposite - be it veterans like Vandana Gupte and Reema Lagoo or be it the freshfaced powerhouse Tejashri Pradhan, Damle is sure to set the stage on fire. Not to mention, he holds record for performing the highest number of shows in a lifetime, which sometimes easily go up to four two acts a day.
5. Dharmakirti Sumant, Alok Rajwade and Natak Company
I have only seen two of Dharmakirti Sumant's plays - Geli Ekvees Varsha (The Last Twenty-one Years or The Lost Twenty-one Years) and Binkamache Samvad (Useless Dialogues/ Conversations) but both of these plays will stay with me for the rest of my life. GEV became one of the most celebrated plays in the country, and set a bar which many believe he could not surpass. I've even seen more experienced veterans write him off. But if Natak Nako, Pani and Charoo Aroo Ityaadi are anything like Binkamache Samvad, Sumant is the writer we need, a milestone in writing we don't appreciate enough.
Both Geli Ekvees and Binkamache have been directed by the able mind of Alok Rajwade, fast garnering popularity and accolades for his acting skills in the Marathi Film Industry. His directorial skills however, still feel untouched and unassuming and he shall remain my role model.
Rajwade and Sumant are a part of a group called Natak Company, Pune (The last word might not be a part of the actual name but is very much retained in their identity.) The group is spearheaded by the impeccable Nipun Dharmadhikari. Natak Company is another name for innovation and creativity and a big part of the pop culture of Pune. I have actually witnessed an entire theatreful of audience members say all dialogues WITH actors at a showing of 'Dalan'. And it was magical..
You can't talk about Natak Company without mentioning Thespo and vice versa. India's premier Youth Theatre Movement is a multilingual affair. Despite being hosted by a company that primarily makes English plays, the last few years has seen the number of Marathi plays exceed the number of English plays at the festival. Other than Natak Company and BMCC products like Dalan, Geli Ekvees Varsha, Kabadi Uncut, Mi... Ghalib and Apradhi Sugandh, it has housed brilliance like Naav, Chitthi, God = Father and Hero. The list of plays scheduled for this December is yet to be announced but I fervently hope that it includes some more exceptional plays from Maharashtra.
7. Spruha Joshi
This name is a little surprising, even to me. Spruha Joshi, who comes from the Mumbai Intercollegiate Community and efficiently flits between movies, television and plays could be an arguable choice in the list, but personally my list would be incomplete without her. I had heard about her for years, from my seniors in college who had seen her killer of a performance in Ananya and more, and from my Mom who has seen Natak Company's Never Mind. I have to admit, I also had a huge crush on her from when she did TV and remember how she took my breath away the one time I saw her backstage after a play.
I first saw her in Hrishikesh Joshi's Nandi - an assortment of ten scenes from landmark plays where she was the main sutradhar but also a part of two pieces and absolutely won the floor in both. I'll go ahead to say that her potrayal of Laxmi from Sakharam Binder in that play came very close to that of Chinmayee Sumeet and maybe even Lalan Sarang (but I haven't seen the latter perform).
There was no stopping to this woman. Her next two roles had a similar description on paper - Samudra and Don't Worry Be Happy saw her play a strong-headed, feministic, working woman. But Spruha Joshi made sure to not even let the shadow of one character fall on the other. One of the things I aim to do in this lifetime, is write a character I can dare to approach her for.
Well, that's about it. My not-very-small listicle. I'm sure there's a lot I've missed out on. But if you think there's something I absolutely must have included, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or comment below. Or send me your listicle, I would love to feature it!
And Happy Marathi Rangbhoomi Diwas to all of you!!