Pic sourced from – http://www.criticalstages.org/criticalstages5/plugin/print/?id=74
Panel discussion: Marathi Theatre in the 21st Century
Deepa Punjani, in http://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com
|The recent five-day festival (May 21-25 2012) of Marathi plays by the Bodhi Natya Parishad at the mini theatre of Ravindra Natya Mandir (PL Deshpande), hosted a discussion on Marathi theatre and its role in the twenty first century. The discussion, which was moderated by Dr Suresh Meshram, one of the founders of the Bodhi Natya Parishad, had as its panelists, Dr Hemu Adhikari, Milind Inamdar, Abhiram Bhadkamkar, Ramu Ramanathan and Premanand Gajvi.The panelists, all theatre practitioners, put forth their views about how Marathi theatre might be envisaged in this century with its concerns and challenges. It was evident that although the discussion was centred on the prominence of regional theatre in Maharashtra, the issues raised, are relevant to other language theatres in Indiatoo.Dr Hemu Adhikari, veteran actor and former-scientist from BARC, plus the voice of rationality in many anti-superstition drives, while referring to the tradition of Marathi theatre over the past hundred years, talked about how today’s youth seemed to want to express things very different from what the previous generation of theatre-goers were accustomed to. He cited young Pune-based playwright Dharmakirti Sumant’s plays such as PAANI and GELI EKVEES VARSHA as examples. In GELI EKVEES VARSHA, the young protagonist who grows up confused, as he cannot come to terms with his parents’ socialist ideals, in a post liberalisation era, ends up rejecting history, rather vehemently. His rejection is symbolically marked in his disruption of the stage design. Referring to PAANI by the same playwright, Dr Adhikari said that the play showed a young writer who had a calibrated response to political and social issues.
Later, when it was veteran playwright Premanand Gajvi’s (whose play GHOTBAR PAANI will have its 3001 staging as a finale to the festival) turn to speak, he said, he was sceptical of plays like PAANI and GELI EKVEES VARSHA and the thought process of young playwrights who ”rejected history”. Gajvi felt, if history can be rejected so glibly, what should it be replaced with? He added that PAANI, which was based on the Narmada Bachaao Aandolan, was not actually examining the dialectics of the struggle; and what went amiss with one of the most significant social uprisings in India of the twentieth century, but only superficially tackled an issue which was quite complex. Gajvi, who has been workshopping with young playwrights and has ”discovered three new plays”, drove another point home in contention to Dr Hemu Adhikari’s opening remarks of how the new century is one of immense challenges. Gajvi said that while the challenges are there (and have always been there) he can only foresee these getting more vexed in the days to come. The time to find a solution has come, but the process is not going to be easy all.
The challenges are not new, as pointed out by director, Girish Patki in a post-discussion. He was candid enough to state that while the discussion was relevant, he felt that ‘tried-and-tested stock phrases and sentences were being repeated. Dramatist Abhiram Bhadkamkar whose plays are having a good run on the Marathi stage; and director Milind Inamdar, faculty at the Theatre Arts Department of Mumbai University, elaborated on key challenges in their presentations. The challenges, they said, are as much about the perception of Marathi theatre today, as it is about how it is depicted. Hence the familiar litany about prayogik (experimental) v/s vyavsayik (commercial), the attitude of producers on the commercial stage, the genre of plays, the lack of performance space, the dearth of ideas in terms of executing the productions, impoverished content which is far removed from society, a disconnect with our repository of literature such as the short story and the poem, busy schedules (especially in a manic city like Mumbai), definitions of entertainment having changed (even threatening the very existence of the live performance), and such others.
A different kind of perspective was put forth by playwright, Ramu Ramanathan. He discussed other cultural perspectives, which were resonant with the topic on hand. He began by referring to three English plays that were recently adjudged as the best plays of the Hindu Metroplus Playwright Award this year. He felt that these new plays, all written by young writers, were promising in terms of content as well as theatre craft. The award-winning play by Prashanth Kumar Nair – ROMEO AND JULIET – NO STRINGS ATTACHED had a playful, play within a play format. One of the short-listed playwrights, Satish Pendharkar, he said, has penned a Bada Sircar folkish social critique called, THE LAST JOURNEY. Ramanathan felt that the seven-to-eight plays in The Hindu competition were by playwrights who were bi-lingual; plus rooted in some or the other theatre tradition, be that socio-cultural or even academic. He said: ”The 40 entries indicate that plays cannot be written overnight. Plays require rigour, craft and patience. And a playwright, who has the opportunity to negotiate the socio-cultural nuances more effectively.”
Referring to the strategies of survival, Ramanathan spoke of how there is an acute need for our theatre to explore new spaces. He spoke of how this used to be done in factories, boulevards, streets in Mumbai but has ceased to be. He emphasized that this was not agit-prop or street theatre but community theatre. Play-readings are equally important to keep theatre alive. Recalling a performance in Brussels, a one-man show, he said that the simplest kind of performances can leave lasting impressions. It all depends on what is being conveyed and how it is done.
Ramu Ramanathan then touched upon the silence among the artist community; especially with the ban on the group, Kabir Kala Manch. He said, the Pune-based theatre activist Deepak Dengle is in prison, and other members of the agit-prop group, including lead singer-poets, Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Sachin Mali, and others have gone underground after threats from the police / ATS. All are charged sans any act of violence (just guilt of association) of “being Naxalites” and the ATS is using an uncritical media to plant allegations against the Kabir Kala Manch. There is silence from the theatre community only because this is happening to ”non upper-caste upper class theatre activists” in Maharashtra.
*Deepa Punjani i.Read more here