Endearing game of charades

A Marathi play with antecedents of more than a 125 years, will continue its run at suburban prosceniums this weekend. Moruchi Mavshi is based on the 1892 play, Charley’s Aunt, by Brandon Thomas. The play was adapted into Marathi by legendary theatre doyen Āchārya Atre, who had caught a show in London as a student. A successful theatrical run in Maharashtra from 1947 led to a film version in 1949 and umpteen stage revivals.

The eponymous protagonist is a cross-dressing man, standing in as the imperious queen of an Indian province (a rich dowager from Brazil in the original) even as a comedy of errors unfolds in her wake. Mistaken identity, the inherent humour in gender cosplay, star-crossed lovers, all conspire to put together what has been an all-time hit across the world. The 1892 production, produced by W S Penley, the actor who played the very first Charley’s Aunt, became the longest-running play worldwide at the time (a mind-boggling 1,466 performances over four years).

Thomas was an actor and occasional dramatist who never again saw success of such magnitude. Penley and he even engaged in a legal dispute over the play’s authorship.

Dramatic success

Atre’s play is now best known by the version launched in 1985 by Suyog Productions, the still extant and thriving commercial theatre outfit founded by Sudhir Bhat. Their first major success was incidentally Moruchi Mavshi, and it introduced breakout performers like Prashant Damle and Vijay Chavan (as the aunt) to Marathi stage and film. After Bhat’s death in 2013, his production house revived the play with an all-new cast in 2014, with comedic star Bharat Jadhav taking on the titular part. This edition was wildly successful, completing 50 shows in just 55 days, in venues across Pune and Mumbai.

Chavan, long considered the definitive mavshi, passed away in August last year. This prompted the latest revival, directed by Prashant Vichare, flagged off in March at Borivali’s Prabodhankar Thackeray Auditorium, as part of a year-long personal tribute to Chavan by Jadhav, under the aegis of his own production outfit.

Popular versions

Apart from the Govinda laugh riot, Aunty No 1, which is the Indian contribution to the chequered cinematic repertoire inspired by Thomas’ play, there have been Indian productions on stage in several languages (including English). One of the most notable Indian versions was Khalid Ki Khala, an uproarious Urdu adaptation by the prolific Begum Qudsia Zaidi. The script was made into a production by her Hindustani Theatre in 1958, directed by Moneeka Misra (who was married to Habib Tanvir).

Recently, the play was revived by Ramesh Talwar and the NSD Repertory Company in 2014, to mark Zaidi’s birth centenary year. Like it was the case with Moruchi Mavshi, Zaidi adapted Charley’s Aunt into an Indian context, and the aunt was colourfully called Begum Jafar Shustaro Madino. In the original, she is named Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez. In Atre’s version, she is simply the Queen of Kanda Sansthan (a fictional princely state).

Transvestism on stage has mostly served a comic function — there is something about cross-dressing that tickles the funny bone like nothing else. The affectations put on by men to ‘become’ female are often outlandish but mirth-inducing, and it’s only recently that these portrayals have been called out for insensitivity — particularly when transgenders are portrayed on stage in a similar mien to characters merely masquerading as women (and therefore expected to slip up in comic fashion). In Moruchi Mavshi, while there is no lip-service to femininity in essence, it’s a game of charades that ends happily for most.

Moruchi Mavshi will stage at Shree Shivaji Mandir, Dadar on June 22 at 8 p.m. and at Deenanath Mangeshkar Natyagriha, Vile Parle on June 23 at 4.15 p.m.; more details on

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 12:37:15 AM |

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