Maharashtra's Love Affair with Sangeet Nataks

Posted on 27 June, 2016 by Team Wishberry

Katyar Kaljat Ghusali
 broke the Marathi box office late last year as it ran leaps and bounds, and surpassed expectations. The movie is based on a Marathi sangeet natak (musical play) by the same name. A sangeet natak is a musical play in which most of the communication in the play is done through songs. Maharashtra has a tradition of sangeet nataks ranging over a 150 years. Those unaware of the recent Marathi theatre history might believe that the form is extinct. But quite to the contrary, the sangeet natak tradition of Marathi theatre has been alive and well all this while.


Vishnudas Bhave staged the first, what could be called a draft, of theatre in India in the form of Sita Swayamvar in 1843 at the request of the king of Sangli. Music, though, was first successfully employed in Shaakuntal, written by Annasaheb Kirloskar, in Pune in 1880. This was the first musical play. It began what proved to be the golden period of sangeet nataks. Kirloskar wrote several plays post that and staged them across Maharashtra and India. With success came experimentation towards newer forms. The mythological stories were dropped and more relevant, social issues were portrayed through sangeet nataksGovind Ballal Deval’s Sangeet Sharada is a perfect example of the popularity and the impact that sangeet natak had at the time. Sangeet Sharada, first staged in 1899, is a story of a teenage girl and her struggle as she is about to get married to a 70 year old man. The play was a comment on child marriage which was prevalent at the time. It is considered to be the first social drama in India. The popularity of sangeet natak was so magnanimous at the time that when the British Government in India passed the Sarda Act to abolish child marriage, people assumed that it was named after the play; when it was actually named after Haribilas Sarda who had proposed the act. Sangeet nataks kept building in the early 1900s with people like BalgandharvaMaster Deenanath, Chintamanrao Kolhatkar and the likes. Despite the popularity it had attained, the form saw descent with the advent of cinema in the country.

The Revival and the Slump

An art form as engaging as sangeet natak was never really going to die. It lived through Jaimala and Jairam Shiledar’s Marathi Rangabhoomi company among a few others. You could say sangeet natak slipped into hibernation. But by the 1960s, its winter ended and sangeet natak started its journey to glory once again.

Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, the sangeet natak, was originally written by Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande - one of the most revered classical singers of the last century. It was between the 1960s and the 1980s when sangeet natak was seeing a revival and many original musical plays were written. Yayati aani Devyani and Matsyagandha are two of the most popular plays apart from Katyar Kaljat Ghusali to have come out at the time. It made strides in these two decades but fell back on bed in the 1980s. With globalisation taking over India in the 1990s, it had become difficult to survive, but again, it refused to die and sangeet natak lovers would not let it.

The Contemporary Form and Growing Popularity

It was in the early 2010s that Rahul Deshpande, the grandson of Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande, decided to revive his grandfather’s works in a newer, more contemporary format. Lesser duration, lesser acts, and hence, lesser songs, but the heart of the story and presentation was retained. Mahesh Kale, Nipun Dharmadhikari, Subodh Bhave, Prashant Damle, Anand Bhate and many other popular faces in the Marathi theatre and film industry have now become a part of the sangeet nataks produced and staged. With Katyar Kaljaat Ghusali made into a film, the youth which was more inclined towards films has started looking at sangeet nataks in a new light, and it has only helped make the format more popular. 

It is the combination of rich history associated with the format, and the stories. The stories that sangeet nataks are based on are heavy on human emotions, which are timeless. Emotions transcend generations and so have these stories and their impact. Couple that with the quality of live singing performances of stalwarts like Rahul Deshpande, Mahesh Kale, Anand Bhate in the present times, and it becomes a glorious opportunity to experience something magnificent. And that has been the case with sangeet nataks of all times. The quality of content, performance and production has always mesmerised audiences. With the revival of sangeet natak seeing great initial success in this digital age, here is to hoping that sangeet natak never fades into hibernation again!

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