Talking Theatre Theatre

It is celebration time for Team Yatri

From Yatri’s ‘Kaal Chakra’

From Yatri’s ‘Kaal Chakra’  


Om Katare’s troupe has reached a milestone this New Year

The year that has just dawned is a milestone in the journey of Om Katare’s theatre group, Yatri. It was in January 1979, a couple of months after the inauguration of Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai, that Katare formed his group and staged the satirical play Ek Tha Gadha.

Now, forty years later, Yatri (which means Traveller) has staged over 55,000 shows of 75 plays; Katare has written about 20 plays, directed most of them, conducted numerous workshops and extended the scope of theatre to include product launches for corporates.

Katare started planning the 40th year splash a year in advance, and this year, the annual Yatri Festival will have 40 shows of 10 plays at 10 venues across Mumbai. “No other group has done such a big festival before,” he says. To mark the anniversary, Yatri, will perform some of their old favourites including ‘Hadh Kar Di Aapne’, ‘Chinta Chhod Chintamani’, ‘Ravanleela’ and ‘Kaal Chakra’, with two new plays, ‘Genius Chor’ andDekho Woh Aa Gaya’, along with workshops, talks, fringe shows, live music performances by the Yatri band, and felicitation of theatre workers.

Corporate backing

“There are about 100 people involved with the festival and 55 actors will be performing,” informs Katare. It is so difficult to organise a festival of this scale without sponsors. We have got support from LC Singh, who has been standing by Yatri for many years, otherwise, Hindi theatre gets no sponsorship. Luckily, we have people who come forward to help…like a friend, Ashok Mukhi, who must have seen at least 50 performances of ‘Kaal Chakra’, because he loves it, and every time he comes, he brings along large groups of people. The play is about the problems of elders, so we do free shows for senior citizens, who in turn tell others about the play, so we get new audiences. The biggest support has always come from Prithvi Theatre. We have got the date, January 16, at Prithvi, when our first show was staged. It is such a happy feeling.”

Katare has adapted eminent Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha’s story for ‘Genius Chor’ (which has been performed earlier asCharandas Chor’) and Noel Coward’s ‘Fallen Angels’ for ‘Dekho Woh Aa Gaya’. “Genius Chor is very different from our other plays,” he says, “it has no set, just lights and music; it is an interesting story about a thief who makes a vow that he will never tell a lie, and the situations he gets into because of it; the second play, I haven’t even started working on, we will rehearse in the gaps during the festival.”

Over the years, Yatri’s most successful play has been ‘Hadh Kar Di Aapne’ about a middle-aged couple who suddenly find they are to be parents again. “I know, this year’s big Bollywood hit has been Badhaai Ho on the same subject. I had been taken by a friend to meet a major production company, and they turned down the script — they didn’t understand that a story about a family will never fail, these emotions are in-built into the Indian psyche. Our other superhit play, ‘Chinta Chhod Chintamani’ is about a joint family, and the emotions resonate with audiences everywhere, who miss the warmth of living in joint families.”

Katare believes that the biggest challenge for a theatre group is to find good scripts. “We had decided right at the start, that Yatri would do family-oriented plays that a regular audience can understand. Whether we do a serious play or a comedy, it is such that families can watch them together. Of course, some of the productions I personally liked failed, like ‘Savita Damodar Paranjpe’, which was a psychological thriller, andChakra’, on reincarnation. We recently revived a musical, a play based on Harishankar Parsai’s story, Rani Nagfani Ki Kahani, which had done well earlier, but this time it did not work. I realised that today’s audience is cut off from Hindi literature and probably could not understand Parsai’s humour. So, to figure out what audiences will like always causes some tension. Gimmicks cannot take you far, ultimately a play should be able to succeed on its own steam. People always expect something new. Theatre veteran Kamlakar Sontakke once said that theatre will survive only when tickets sell at the box-office window; then it will not need to plead with anyone for support,” says Katare.

Quality takes backseat

“Frankly,” he continues, “we have been working for 40 years, but there is no fun doing theatre any more. It has become a money game. People do large, expensive productions and then have to charge high ticket prices, which most audiences cannot afford. ‘Houseful’ has become a criterion, quality has taken a backseat. There is also the shortage of dates in auditoriums. If we want to do a proper production with sets, music and so on, we should be able to do regular shows, so that actors can be retained too. That is impossible now. If we travel, we have to go by air, because actors these days are busy with shoots and can’t spend so much time in trains, but how many organisations that invite groups to perform in their cities can afford air fares? Still, we do manage to tour when we can.”

Katare is all praise for a Nashik school that not only brings its students to Mumbai to watch plays, but also invited Yatri to do workshops in their school. “There is so much talent in our country. If other schools also emulated this example, theatre would benefit a great deal.”

Unlike many other theatre artistes, Katare did not abandon the stage for films or TV. “I could not have managed a group for 40 years if I had been distracted.”

His dream, after the festival is completed, is to do a production of Draupadi, based on a story by Pratibha Rai. “It is a unique take on Draupadi’s life. It is a strong play, that says that there has been little change in society’s attitude towards women. Whoever has heard it wants to be a part of it.”

Looking back over 40 years, Katare says, “It’s something I never dreamt of. The journey has not been without obstacles, but the blessings of Rangdevta (god of theatre) must have been with it, because without that nothing can work.”

(The writer is a critic and columnist)

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 8:00:38 AM |

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