Did you know the pioneer of Marathi theatre, Vishnudas Bhave, staged the first Marathi play, Sita Swayamvar, in 1843 in Sangli? In fact, following the success of the play, he put up several others based on different stories from the Ramayana. Marathi theatre has churned out numerous noteworthy gems over the decades. Plays like Shakuntal, Sangeet Saubhadra, Natsamarat, Ti Phulrani, To Mi Navhech, Katyar Kaljat Ghusali among several others, are conversation starters even today, with some of them adapted for the big screen as well.
To celebrate Marathi theatre, The Royal Opera House, Mumbai, presents Natya Velhal — Opera House Rangamanchavar Marathi Natakanchi Parvani, its first-ever four-day Marathi theatre festival. It is supported by Mumbai Theatre Guide, Astitva and Avid Learning and will be held between April 6 to April 9.
Sharing his excitement about the festival and his first-ever performance at the Royal Opera House, Dr Girish Oak, aver, “A few of my friends’ plays have been staged there, but I didn’t get the chance, so I am looking forward to performing there. On the first day, two of my plays are being staged — 38 Krushna Villa and Kaali Rani. My roles in both the plays are diametrically opposite and to perform these different plays and characters on the same day makes me very proud.” Dr Oak received the best actor award for his roles in the said plays recently.
Actress and producer Madhura Welankar Satam, who is presenting the play Madhurav: Boru Te Blog, says, “The name, the architecture screams royalty. I have only seen photos online and now I get a chance to perform there, so it feels great. I have never performed there, so staging a play which I have produced, directed and also acted in feels like an honour. And, we are proud of it. My historical drama and the venue with its rich heritage, I feel will complement each other.”
Stalwarts from the Marathi theatre industry such as Suchita Thatte, Gajanan Paranjpe, Saurabh Gokhale, Anita Date, Sandesh Jadhav, Gauri Jadhav, Vijay Kenkre and many more, will be performing and staging their masterpieces.
So, when performing or staging a play at a big venue, does it call for changes to the play? Explaining her take, actress Amruta Subhash says, “I have performed Ti Phulrani to a crowd of 10,000 people in an open ground. When the venue is huge you need to project your acting. The pace of the performance is slightly stretched. Time bends with the venue size. The laughter or the response of the audience travels to the actors at a slower pace. Therefore, the pauses have to be increased slightly.”
Adding further she says, “Intensity need not change, just the projection of acting changes. I had done a workshop with Naseeruddin Shah sir in the National School of Drama, where he had told us to act in a scene without lights. He said to hold the truth and it will be communicated to the audience. And, yes, if the actor was acting truthfully we got it to the audience. We have to be truthful in any space we are performing.”
Veteran theatre director and actor, Vijay Kenkare, whose plays are also being performed during the festival says the Royal Opera House has a different vibe and ‘staging a Marathi play there is an honour’.
“I think the Marathi Theatre Festival happening in South Bombay will bring back that crowd to the theatre. A play I had directed has been staged thrice there. So, I’m very optimistic about the festival happening over there and it’s a well-organised one. Such festivals should happen frequently in South Bombay so that we get a good audience, which we used to get at Sahitya Sangh in Girgaon. I’m very happy that this festival is happening over there. And I’m happy that not only plays but there are different kinds of programmes also happening over there. It’s kind of a carnival, I should say. This carnival is going to be successful,” he avers.
Echoing similar sentiments is Dr Oak. “Marathi Theatre Festival being held at the Royal Opera House is commendable. Years back, in South Bombay, we used to perform at Sahitya Sangh. Even before I started doing plays, Sahitya Sangh was a prominent and popular venue among Marathi audiences. However, the audience slowly reduced in number. The question, however, that arises is not whether the audience will come to the theatre. It is whether there’s still a Marathi speaking audience and whether they watch Marathi plays. It’s a good thing that such a festival is being held in South Bombay as it might prove a boon for the Marathi-speaking audience who otherwise has to go to suburbs to watch Marathi plays,” he adds.
On picking Royal Opera House as the venue for the festival, Asad Lalljee, Curator of the Royal Opera House, Mumbai, says, “Marathi theatre has seen immense growth in recent times, especially post lockdown. As the theatre continues to evolve with newer ideas, newer concepts and much more experiments; we try to encourage the artist and audience to come and have a first-class experience at the Royal Opera House and enjoy the drama.”
On a parting note, Makarand Deshpande, who is also performing at the festival, shares, “I had opened two of my plays there… Your emotion reaches through that opulence, which has warmth and the product also looks rich. Yet, the substance is covered or communicated beautifully. Having a festival which is dedicated to Marathi language, I think the crowd will somehow feel that the Royal Opera House belongs to them. If we keep having these festivals, slowly it will become a lovely initiative.”
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