Bombay Showcase

Classic Marathi theatre, refurbished

Still from 'Don't worry be happy'  

The seventh edition of the NCPA’s Pratibimb Marathi Theatre Festival gets under way this evening. And classic works reinvented for contemporary audiences appear to be its thrust. For instance, the landmark Marathi musical, Ekach Pyala, written by Ram Ganesh Gadkari in 1918, provides the resplendent backdrop to the Natak Company’s Sindhu Sudhakar Rum ani Itar, which delivers us to the costume department of a latter-day film production of the classic play in all its period glory.

The original depicted its Devdas-style protagonist, Sudhakar’s nihilistic descent into alcoholism. The noted Marathi singer Bal Gandharva played his hapless wife, Sindhu, in a 1919 production staged shortly after Gadkari’s untimely death that year at just 35 years of age. In playwright Ashutosh Potdar’s retelling, directed by the intrepid Alok Rajwade, these characters become ciphers for modern dilemmas. Their play oscillates between the past and present, and reality and delusion. The play had been specially commissioned for Pune’s Vinod Doshi Theatre Festival where it opened in February. In a testament to Ekach Pyala’s enduring legacy, the Gadkari play continues to be performed regularly in its original form.

Marathi author Bhalchandra Nemade has been feted on the national stage in recent years, winning the Indian literary accolade, the Jnanpith award in 2014. His path-breaking first novel, Kosla, was written in 1963. A young man’s existential moorings presented as a personal diary, it is said to have been penned by a 25-year-old Nemade in just 15 days. Director Mandar Deshpande has taken extracts from both Kosla and a poetry volume, Dekhani, also by Nemade, and has put together the new play, Me, Pandurang Sangavikar, which will be performed at the festival. Sangavikar is, of course, Kosla’s disaffected protagonist, and Deshpande’s play resurrects his despair and eventual capitulation to society’s diktats on the stage. The play opened in Pune earlier this year, although Deshpande had helmed a student production at his alma mater, the Lalit Kala Kendra, in 2006.

Two adaptations of material not originally written in Marathi are part of the program. Vipul Mahagaonkar will open Khidki, based on Dario Fo’s 1970 play An Accidental Death of an Anarchist, while the Marathi avatar of Madhu Rye’s 1969 long-running Gujarati psychological thriller, Koi Pan Ek Phool nu Naam Bolo, is Ha Shekhar Khosla Kon Ahe, directed by Vijay Kenkre.

Fo’s play has seen innumerable stagings across the world, including several in India. Inspired by a real-life incident, it deals with the alleged suicide of a man during a police interrogation, a theme that lends itself handily to any number of oppressive situations in any context. Mahagaonkar researched the criminal justice system in Mumbai, and specifically references the 2012 Azad Maidan riots, while alluding to the situation in Kashmir. Kenkre’s award-winning production, which opened in December last year, begins with a scene from a play within the play. In it, a member of the audience is accidentally shot by an actor. This prepares the ground for a gripping and suspenseful courtroom drama. For producers Bhadrakali Productions, who have run the delightful Malvani comedy Vastraharan for more than 5,000 shows, this looks like yet another winner at the turnstiles, given the credentials of the Gujarati original.

A multi-hued feminine voice at the festival is provided by actor Rajashree Sawant Wad, who has put together a performance of Sushama Deshpande’s Tichya Aaichi Goshta, Arthat Mazya Athavanincha Phad, a play on a fictional tamasha artiste Heerabai. Deshpande has herself played this character since 1994, for a run of more than 100 shows. Heerabai was an unmarried single mother, and her story is recounted by her journalist daughter. Though it is filtered through the lens of the gender and caste politics that informed those times, the milieu depicted in the play could just as easily be contemporaneous. With her interpretation, Wad attempts to unearth the true soul of lavani, and the spirit and gumption of the women who worked in the traditional lavani theatre, known as the sangeet bari. The NCPA will host one of the play’s rare outings in Mumbai since opening in Pune earlier this year, although aficionados would likely still remember Deshpande’s version.

Atul Pethe, one of Marathi theatre’s pillars, is also at hand with a dramatised reading of Jayant Pawar’s Tarkachya Khunteevaroon Nisatlele Rahasya, in which a young boy gets embroiled in a mystery story left unfinished by his uncle. It will be a minimalist rendition. The novella will be read out live in the manner of an abhivachan: a combination of abhinay (acting) and vachan (storytelling), with some light and sound interplay.

Equally sparse is Kalat Nakalat, an emotionally-charged chamber piece from director Anil Kakade. The drama is revolves around a differently-abled man left in the care of his twin brother, who finds it difficult to form other relationships, including one with the female tenant who lives in the same house. It is a play that has been performed sporadically since 2014, and is yet another in a long line of socially conscious plays from Kakade.

The opening performance at the festival is the relationship drama, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, written by Mihir Rajda, and directed by Adwait Dadarkar. It has been a smash hit on the Marathi theatre box-office, having completed more than 60 shows. Umesh Kamat and Spruha Joshi play a gen-next couple who are dealing with myriad issues, including the wife’s infertility caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is a modern tale presented with humour. Given how popular the play has been, it is bound to get the festival off to a flying start.

The writer is a playwright and stage critic

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Today, 7 p.m., Experimental Theatre, NCPA. Tickets Rs. 200 to Rs. 300. Full Pratibimb Marathi Theatre Festival schedule and ticket prices:

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 4:24:32 PM |

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