Theatrical Art of Maharashtra | Things to Know: India’s extensive and rich tradition of theatre dates back to at least 5000 years. The earliest form of the theatre emerged in India was in Sanskrit. It began after the development of Greek and Roman theatre and before the development of theatre in other parts of Asia. The origin of Indian theatre is closely related to ancient rituals and seasonal festivities of the country. Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra is the earliest and most elaborate piece on dramaturgy written anywhere in the world which holds numerous combined and codified traditions of Dance, Mime and Drama that describes classifications of dramatic acts. No other book of ancient times contains such a thorough study on drama. It is addressed to the playwright, the director and the actor because to Bharat Muni these three were inseparable in the creation of drama.
It is the theatrical art in Marathi language, originating in the Maharashtrian province, and elsewhere with Marathi Diaspora. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century the Marathi theatre was dominated by the playwrights who enriched the stage for about half the century with excellent musical plays known as ‘Sangeet Natak – The Musical Drama’, ‘Tamasha- Plays Featuring Folk Dance’ and ‘Powada- Drama In The Ballad Form’.
In Maharashtra the theatrical activity began in 1843 with Vishnudas Bhave’s “Sanglikar Natak Mandali”, which was influenced by the English plays. Vishnudas was an extremely gifted scholar – playwright, director and able organizer. He began staging plays with narrations in verse, the stories of which rooted from Sanskrit mythology and religious literature. Songs and music were the strengths of Bhave’s dramas. In 1868, Vinayak Kirti entered the Marathi Theatre with his historical drama “MADHAVRAO PESHWA” which had absolutely no songs or musical recitals; instead the whole drama was acted with dialogues which were totally in prose. Here the Marathi drama branches off in two directions – Prose Plays and Verse Plays. The Marathi Theatre now began its un-interrupted march. This success of the theatrical arts paved way for commercial repertories in Marathi theatre, and subsequently the formation of numerous Natak Companies.
The forward march of the Marathi Theatre, be it professional and non-professional, has been ever progressive and full of constant social and aesthetic awareness. These heights have been scaled due to the glorious efforts of many highly learned playwrights and talented artists. It is difficult to narrate its past in a few words. The share of Marathi Theatre in the development of Indian Theatre has been not only unique but a source of valued inspiration for theatrical arts in other Indian languages. Thus Marathi Theatre has etched a golden chapter in the history of Indian Theatre.
Many outstanding playwrights like Mama Warerkar, Acharya Atre, Vasant Kanetkar, Vidyadhar Gokhale, M. G. Rangnekar, Madhusudan Kalelkar, Shirwadkar and the renowned modernist Vijay Tendulkar, were triumphant in raising the standards of the post-independence Marathi Theatre. And some later playwrights who, with their innovative thoughts tried to give a new dimension to the Marathi Theatre include Jaywant Dalvi, Vinayak Janardhan Keertane, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Prabhodh Thackeray, S.N Navare, Satish Alekar, G.P. Deshpande, Datta Bhagat, Ram Ganesh Gadkari, and Vishnu Das Bhave.
Even today it continues to have marked a presence in the state of Maharashtra with a loyal audience support, when most theatre in other parts of India has had tough time facing the onslaught of cinema and television. The sole reason this art form is still alive today is just because of good writers, innovative directors and an appreciative audience. The craze for theatre and the eagerness to experiment with its content remains untouched. As in Maharashtra it is a tradition and neither the audience nor the playwrights ever look at it as just a medium of entertainment.
- Sanchit Pahwa