The Marathi experimental movement, fronted by the likes of Vijay Tendulkar, Sulabha Deshpande, Mahesh Elkunchwar, directed Marathi theatre in a new direction in the 1970s. Even today, Marathi experimental theatre is alive and kicking ass. In this piece we take a look at the best Marathi experimental plays - three classics and three modern. These are the plays theatre lovers will enjoy and should keep an eye out for.
Ghashiram Kotwal (1972) Writer - Vijay Tendulkar
Director - Jabbar Patel
Vijay Tendulkar was known for his outspoken views and his political critique. Around the early 70s, when Shiv Sena was formed, Tendulkar wrote Ghashiram Kotwal in response to Bal Thackerey’s rise. The play is a political satire based in historic times and revolves around the theme of how powerful people create ideologies, take advantage of them, and then discard them once they become useless.
Nana Phadanvis, a prominent minister in the Peshwa’s court, is a corrupt official in the morally corrupt state of affairs. He mistreats Ghashiram, the protagonist who is working with a Lavani dancer, when Ghashiram goes to collect alms with regard to Nana’s visit to the Lavani dancer. Ghashiram is jailed with false charges. Ghashiram resolves to avenge the mistreatment, and trades his daughter with Nana in return of getting the post of Kotwal (Police Chief) of Pune.
What follows is a completely tyrannical law and order situation which goes out of hand when people die in jail due to suffocation. Nana realizes his mistake and summons Ghashiram to be killed.
The play is written in a musical style using the folk form of Tamasha. It also employs a mixture of lavanis and abhangas (devotional songs).
Wada Chirebandi (1985) Writer - Mahesh Elkunchwar
Director - Chandrakant Kulkarni
Mahesh Elkunchwar is credited with a number of incredible plays and truly making experimental theatre experiment. Out of his long list of amazing plays Wada Chirebandi stands out and how! This play, first written in 1983, is the first part of what became the first trilogy of Indian theatre.
Image Source: www.marathidhamaal.com
The father dies, and Sudhir, the younger son who had moved to Mumbai, is set to return to the village for the final rites. Elder son, Bhaskar, expects Sudhir to bear the expenses since the financial situation at his end is not at its best. Sudhir denies citing his own financial stress. Younger family members want to chase their own dreams. All of these conflicts, one by one, start accumulating. The play revolves around these conflicts.
The prevalent patriarchy and the unfair bonds of traditions and the winds of change which were creeping in the 1980s have been beautifully captured by Elkunchwar. The social documentation that this play does is commendable.
Begum Barve (1979) Writer & Director - Satish Alekar
Satish Alekar is one of the most revered playwrights not only in Marathi, but across the globe. He is the man behind plays like Mickey aani Memsahib (1973), Mahanirvan (1974), Atirekee (1975), Begum Barve (1979) and many others. Alekar is also the founder member of Theatre Academy, Pune.
Alekar’s Begum Barve is a masterpiece. It takes you through the emotional rollercoaster of a transvestite’s life, the selfishness of human existence, and the subtle acceptance of all things good and bad in a helpless situation. Barve, the protagonist, is a huge fan of Bagandharva, the theatre icon who set a trend by playing amazing female characters on stage. Barve lives with a drunkard called Shyamrao and sells incense sticks to make a living. A string of events, including deceit, between their customers Jawdekar, Bawdekar and Nalawadebai, all government clerks, and Shyamrao is what follows. All of it involving Barve who in reality has no part to play.
Alekar has employed songs from old musicals, but they appear in unrelated context and expose the irony in everything.
Modern Experimental Plays
Tee Writer - Rohan Tillu
Director - Pritesh Sodha
Tee is a horror play which extends beyond the stage of the theatre. The director Pritesh Sodha has brought fear to life. There is presence mid-audience and that is scary and startling. The experiment has worked beautifully for the play so far as it has received rave reviews from everyone who has watched it.
Tee is the story of a lawyer who hires an actor to be able to tell his loved ones an encounter he had had. The lawyer had visited an eerie village called Lakhpat in Kutch for the funeral of an old, reclusive man. During his visit he had an encounter with a woman called Manchha. But, her mere mention sends shivers down the spines of villagers.
Image Source: Hindustan Times
Binkamache Sanwad Writer - Dharmakirti Sumant
Director - Alok Rajwade
The combination of Alok Rajwade and Dharmakirti Sumant has been a boon to the Marathi experimental circuit. These blazing young guns have together created some of the most amazing plays and experimented with formats a lot, like in Binkamache Sanwad.
Image Source: Natakcompany.org
Binkamache Sanwad loosely translates to ‘useless conversations’. The play presents itself in a wrestling ring; a dream sequence of sorts, if you may. Bhosanka, the 50 year old lead character, has just bought a new iPhone 6. He meets multiple people in this ‘ring’ and asks multiple questions related to decadence of language, morality, the political tyranny, et al. The play might seem messy at first, but it reveals its layers as it progresses.
There is comment on the current state of language, meaningless conversations and the political scenario of our country.
Geli Ekvees Varsha Writer: Dharmakirti Sumant
Director: Alok Rajwade
Alok and Dharmakirti strike again!
Geli Ekvees Varsha questions what happened in the 21 years after the generation which took Emergency head on became parents. The play probes the disappearance of the idea of a free, secular nation which once was deeply rooted in the minds of a majority of Indians. It takes us through the mind and thoughts of a youngster who neither leans left, nor right.
Image Source: Natakcompany.org
The protagonist Tarun completes 21 years of his life, and frustrated with the constant pressure from his parents, he turns to his friend Raghu for answers to questions like the purpose of life. The play is certainly relatable to most young people in our country. More so after in the past two years we have seen some outrage and voices raised against some of the things wrong with our society.
These are our top picks from the Marathi experimental circuit. Do tell us what your list looks like!