I live and breathe to perform on stage: Meet Mandar Bhanage, who’s trying to bring Hamlet to Marathi theatre

Posted on 23 August, 2017 by Team Wishberry

Here are a few facts when it comes to crowdfunding in India:

  •  In 2015, Wishberry had just 4 theatre projects, while 2016 saw 10 — The genre by itself has grown by 150%.
  • Theatre makes up for only 5% of the total number of projects on Wishberry, compared to 11% projects in the music category and 47% in films.
  • Statistics show that during a crowdfunding campaign, a major chunk of the funding (approximately 60%) comes from the personal networks of the campaigners.

Increasingly, there is a worrying yet growing consensus about the fact that theatre as a medium of entertainment is losing ground to other forms of media, especially cinema. In 2016 alone, 225 Hindi films managed to release in India. Conversely, how many times have we, as active audiences for all forms of media, wondered about the number of plays that were staged across the country in a given year? I’m sure not many of us thought about it.

In such ‘environment’, what should be lauded, is the courage of theatre artists who refuse to give in to the pressure: Mandar Bhanage is one such person. Mandar’s play Hamlet (translated from the original to Marathi by Shri Parshuram Deshpande) is currently crowdfunding on Wishberry with a target of Rs. 3 Lakhs. The campaign has already raised more than 30% of the required funds. We spoke to Mandar about his play, his love for theatre and finally, if he truly thinks that crowdfunding is the answer to the fledgling fortune of theatre in India.

Mandar, tell us about yourself…

I come from a middle-class business family in Kolhapur and the passion for acting runs in my family. My grandfather, uncle and aunty were theatre artists. I grew up watching them on stage. Watching them transform themselves into the characters they would portray on stage inspired me early on.

Where did the love for Shakespeare come from?

Being from a middleclass family, education was of priority for my parents. Hence, I was sent to a boarding school, Sanjeewan Vidyalaya, in Panchgani, Maharashtra. My English teacher in school, Chavan Sir, introduced us to Shakespeare and his plays such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. I was fascinated and began reading more Shakespeare. And… playing 'Hamlet' at least once in my life, became my dream.

How did you come about directing Hamlet and playing the title role as well?

After I graduated from college, I did amateur theatre as an actor and even worked backstage as a lighting designer. I also worked on the sets of short films in the lighting department. In 2016, I established my own theatre company, MB THEATRE and last year, I came across the Marathi translation of Hamlet done by Shri Parshuram Deshpande, and there it was… my opportunity to make my dream come true! I decided that not only would I play Hamlet, but also produce the play. And when everything was finalised, I roped in actors and backstage technicians to make the production possible and our opening show, a success.

Tell us honestly — do you think theatre is dying in India?

There are only two kinds of people in this world — theatre geeks and well… the other side! People who are really passionate about theatre will never be satisfied with any other content on a digital platform because it doesn’t have the same impact of being in an auditorium and watching a live performance in front of your eyes. Actors on stage tend to think on their feet at times, make impromptu changes, on the spot, to ensure the performance makes its mark! These are experiences that you will not witness on any other platform. Theatre can never be replaced by digital content. It’s a different world in itself. Just look at the numerous dramatic societies that exist in colleges all over the country, which churn out amazing content and actors and directors as well! Balraj Sahni, Bimal Roy, Amitabh Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Rukh Khan, Irrfan Khan… the list of amazing talent that the country has had the honour to witness, thanks to theatre is ENDLESS! What we need to do is remind people how much they liked theatre, once they are out school and colleges! Of course, one has to deal with the lure of simpler consumption that the digital media offers. However, I believe that if exposed to the best theatre India has to offer, the same audience will accept and fall in love with the medium! This is why I feel theatre needs crowdfunding, because crowdfunding can bring us closer to the youth and they can become stakeholders in this process and discover the medium and its possibilities.

What about the relevance of regional theatre?

Regional theatre is like an incubator as it allows you to grow within that space. The regional space of theatre almost functions like a close-knit community, which offers constant validation and support to its artists. Moreover, it is a known fact that regional theatre holds a special position in India, and within that sphere, Gujarati and Marathi theatre have taken the centre stage for many, many years. There are countless names that have made it big in the world of cinema, who had their first brush with acting/directing via regional theatre! However, I am not unaware of the brutal reality as well — our preferences and tastes as consumers of art are becoming more global. This is why regional theatre needs to grow and reinvent itself. That is exactly what I intend to do with my play, Hamlet.

You had broached the subject of crowdfunding earlier. Tell us how you decided to take the crowdfunding route?

I started this campaign with a target of Rs. 3 Lakhs. This money will help my team and I mount this production in three locations — Mumbai, Pune and Goa. However, more than just the funds, there are certain myths about theatre and specifically Marathi theatre that I want to lay to rest — ‘Theatre is dying down’ or ‘Marathi plays don’t have the same magic’ — Hopefully after the campaign succeeds, our audience (and backers) will validate our stand!

What makes your version of Hamlet unique?

To begin with, our troupe consists of phenomenal Marathi dramatists. We’ve laboured over our script and come up with authentic Marathi dialogues that remain true to the essence of the original. Neehar Dabade, who’s from A.R. Rahman’s music conservatory, has lent his magic in the form of original Marathi musical compositions. Most importantly, our preview performance at Kesharao Bhosale Natyagruha, in Kolhapur, was a roaring success and applauded by famous film personalities and theatre veterans.

However, because of the paucity of funds we’re limited to the local theatres in tier 2 and 3 cities. We would love to go on an all-India tour, or maybe take the play abroad, but, at this point that seems like a far-fetched possibility. It is sad but true that, at times, money becomes a barrier for us artists. Ideally that shouldn’t be the case! We live and breathe to perform in the theatre. And the applause at the end of our performance means everything to us! I want to show the world how truly great Marathi theatre really can be. But truth be told, money is a great, as well as, deciding factor. Therefore, I have turned to the crowd, to our plausible audience, to help us out and back us!

Finally, Mandar, what is your vision for the play?

I want to take my version of the Bard’s best piece not only all over the country but even abroad some day! I want theatre lovers to cherish the greatness that is Hamlet in Marathi, my language, for language is no barrier for Shakespeare’s work. Hamlet, especially, is a never-ending work of exploration.

You can get more details about Mandar’s campaign here.

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