A NEW STORY...

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 23 March 2019

...with a new cast is being written, courtesy the influx of students and artists to Pune from other parts of Maharashtra. Ahead of World Theatre Day, Ambika Shaligram talks to this breed of artists and the challenges before them

A labourer from Seemandhra or Karnataka leaves his village and moves to Mumbai or Pune for more work opportunities, for more money. This story of migration has already been documented. But have you considered applying the same phenomenon to the burgeoning art scene in any Indian city? In Pune, for instance, prominent theatre groups put the number of outstation artists at 40 in a team of 100. The data hasn’t been put down statistically, but senior theatre practitioners say that this trend is growing and will boom in the years to come. 

Ahead of World Theatre Day (March 27), we chat with a few artists, who have moved to Pune, bag and baggage, to purse theatre. Respected names from the art fraternity enumerate the work ethics of these artists, the challenges before them and their contribution to the city’s theatre scene. 

‘AN AMERICAN DREAM’
For decades now, Indians have been chasing the ‘Great American Dream’ — relocating to that continent in hope of a better life. This phrase can also be used to describe the ‘hungry-to-prove-themselves’ youngsters from India’s small towns and villages, who have not had the access or infrastructure to work in the medium of art. Pratik Jadhav, who recently bagged Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s Rangsetu fellowship in the stream of dramatics, exemplifies this narrative. Hailing from Ichalkaranji, Jadhav started with doing skits and plays during Ganesh festival. He wanted to become an actor, but didn’t know how to go about it. His family wasn’t supportive either, so he did his BCom. 

“After graduation, I took up a job, did well and got promoted and thus came to Pune. I wasn’t aware till then that you can study drama full time. When I did, I chucked my job and took admission in Lalit Kala Kendra (Gurukul), Savitribai Phule Pune University. My parents had no idea what I was doing. In second year, I invited them to our faculty production. They still weren’t convinced and I was thrown out of the house. But I persisted with my dream,” he explains.

“This persistence to survive, to do jugaad, defines what these youngsters are made up of,” says Pradeep Vaiddya, Director of Expressions Lab. “Till a point, in Pune, we did a certain kind of theatre, with certain kind of Brahminical leaning. Now things are changing and driving this change are kids who come in from different parts of Maharashtra. I would say currently, we are living in an open market type of society and everyone in it is looking to seize opportunity and make the most of it. These kids are willing to surrender themselves, go the whole hog with dedication. This is not to say that the Pune artists are not dedicated or hard working. The  point is that the city youth have it easy, they know their way around, they have access to resources, however limited they might be,” opines Vaiddya.

THE FIRST BREAK
The youngsters, once they move to the city whether for education or for employment, bring with them ‘their sensory world’, which is unique. “That sensory world is different from what they come across in the new city. They look at episodes, news-making moments and milestones differently, with another reference point. So what they produce creatively from these experiences is new,” adds Vaiddya.  

However, the transition isn’t easy and the youngsters have to fight for that one chance to prove themselves. Even in a big city like Pune, the infrastructure for art forms is limited and that’s why the struggle for getting that first break becomes intense. It might disillusion a few and fire up the others. 

Ashish Mehta, manager, Aasakta Kalamanch, points out, “Their concerns might be true. But, I would tell the young people that the city has limited resources, which are distributed, shared amongst various groups. I don’t think anyone is deliberately sidelined here. Yes, you are new and will have to compete with local, established theatre groups. Therefore, work hard, network, form relationships. Don’t nurse complexes.”

Indrajeet Mopari, who moved to Pune from Amravati, agrees with Mehta. He says, “I don’t think we are sidelined here. We got access to venues like Sudarshan Rangmanch and other intimate spaces, auditoriums. If we have to compete with local groups, then they in turn have to compete with theatre productions from Mumbai. Once you settle in, and are in the thick of the game, you learn the ropes.”

SPEAK UP
Mopari, who works with an IT company in the city, has acted in a play directed by Niranjan Pedanekar (Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo) and with another theatre group, Collage. Says he, “It helps you in understanding what works here. In Amravati, two styles of theatre are prevalent. One is farcical and another is melodrama. A third style of experimental plays, is also emerging. When I was working there, we used to do plays in our dialect, which was replete with mhani/sayings and idioms. I realised that this doesn’t work in Pune. The audience here isn’t familiar with the dialect of Vidarbha. So, I learnt to speak grammatically correct Marathi, pronunciation and so on. That was my first test.” 

However, his seniors in the field believe that ‘language is not a big deal’ and the variety in our spoken tongue makes the world richer. Vidyanidhee Vanarase, founder, director of IAPAR, says, “Frankly, as far as theatre is concerned, you have to know the language or attempt to learn the language of the character in the play. If the character is from Khandesh, speak the way a Khandeshi would. It will only enhance your versatility as an actor. A Marathi natak doesn’t have to be set every time in Sadashiv Peth, Pune 30. Nor do the characters have to speak in Puneri Praman Marathi Bhasha, every time.” 

Mehta, who is originally not from Pune and didn’t speak Marathi earlier, reiterates this point. “Theatre isn’t puritan. Far from it. It’s okay to ‘go here and there’ with the language. If everyone speaks ‘praman Marathi’, then it will become monotonous. The flavour will be missing. Everyone speaks differently, let’s accept it. If we don’t, then we will be sitting somewhere on a high pedestal, declaring that ours is the correct language. It doesn’t bode well,” he adds. 

MANY FORMS OF THEATRE
Besides learning new forms of speech, the youngsters also have to acquaint themselves with subjects, themes which are different from the kind of theatre that they were exposed to. Siddhesh Dhuri, who is from Sindhudurg, was exposed to works of Macchindra Kambli and Dashavatar, a form of folk theatre. “I used to think that Dashavatar is theatre. I did a couple of skits in Malvan, I did vagnatya, where you talk a lot. I liked throwing my voice. This was the extent of my exposure to theatre. Only after coming to Pune did I realise that theatre was big. I learnt a lot here,” says Dhuri, who started taking part in inter-collegiate drama competitions like Firodiya Karandak. Currently, he is a part of Aasakta Kalamanch. 

When we ask what he has learnt, the newly minted engineer replies, “In Pune, there is ample scope for commercial and experimental theatre and there are many people working in different genres. That’s not the case in Sindhudurg. Theatre companies from Mumbai and Pune perform there sometimes. That’s the only time we get exposed to something new. One good play which I remember watching in Kudal, was Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Hamlet. We don’t have proper theatre infrastructure in Sindhudurg. Sawantwadi has a few auditoriums, but the plays that are staged there are mostly in the historical genre.”

Jadhav, who studied drama for three years in Pune, went back to his hometown to sow the seeds of theatre amongst his people. “Not everyone can afford to study theatre in Pune or Mumbai. So I returned home to start two theatre groups — Phoenix Theatre and Blackbox Theatre. Forty six students are a part of these groups. We perform dramas in the rural areas,” the youngster informs. 

Like Dhuri and Mopari, Jadhav reiterates that other subregions in the state are not familiar with the ‘realistic acting’ or ‘experimental theatre’. The thrust is on high quotient of emotional drama. “I had done a one-act play —  1 April — in Kolhapur and I saw the same play in Pune. I realised that we had done a very broad-based work whereas here, there was attention given to details. Actors like Alok Rajwade and Amey Wagh live their characters. After watching them on stage, I realised that there is a rigorous process involved in becoming the character,” says Jadhav.

Mopari outlines his set of challenges when doing productions in Amravati. “Around 2010, when I was doing theatre there, we had to face stiff competition from films. Back then, the movie tickets were priced under Rs 100. So if the ticket price for our play was Rs 100 or 

Rs 120, people would prefer to watch a movie. We had to resort to associating with media groups or culture clubs to host our plays. Or we had to go to Nagpur, Akola. Once we managed to pull in audience, we could sustain the play for three shows, after which we didn’t get new audience. Only actors like Prashant Damle or Dilip Prabhavalkar can attract audience in Vidarbha,” says Mopari, who has formed a group called Swami in the city. 

CHOOSING SUBJECTS
In the process of nurturing theatre in his hometown, Jadhav also learnt a few lessons. “I had studied Satish Alekar’s Mahanirvan in college. And, that was the first production I decided to work on after returning to my village. I failed — I couldn’t explain or make my people understand what the play was about,” he says.

Vanarase feels, “If a play is done convincingly, then it will be accepted by all. People might like Mohit Takalkar’s play and they will also enjoy Prashant Damle’s work. Virajas Kulkarni and Rishi Manohar are also doing good work. These people think differently and they try to present or express their thoughts on subjects which resonate with them.”

He then elucidates what are the factors you should take into account while making a play. “You have read horrendous stories of Partition and you want to do a play revolving around it. But you do it here in Pune, thinking large numbers will turn up because of the sensitivity of the subject, then it doesn’t work out that way. The middle class Pune audience will not relate to it because it hasn’t affected their lives majorly as it did up north. It will be received differently in Punjab. Doing plays on subjects which are important and hence need to be seen by everyone, means that you have to work extra hard on wooing the audience and convincing them. You have to be prepared for an audience of 50 and not 1000. You should do a play that you want to, but you should also think whether you want to make numbers and do more shows. These are two very different aspects,” he emphasises.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR PUNE THEATRE?
The template for the trend has been set up by Hindi film industry and is now being followed by television and theatre. “The epicentre of Bollywood has shifted from Mumbai and Delhi to smaller towns like Kota in Rajasthan or Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. That’s where the action is. Similarly, if you look at serials produced by Zee Marathi, they are being shot in Satara, Malvan, Kolhapur and so on. The kids, who come from the smaller towns to Pune, work in theatre, move to television as actors, writers, editors. They rope in their friends. Watch any serial, you are bound to have one character from Vidarbha. They are the ones who will be doing theatre now. The urban generation which watched and did theatre earlier, has now moved to USA and UK,” says Vaiddya.

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