“The story of the origin of Marathi theater in Vid represents the cultural values ​​of the time”

“The story of the origin of Marathi theater in Vid represents the cultural values ​​of the time”

By Kartik Lokhande

Often one wonders about the richness and variety of Marathi theater in Nagpur and Vidarbha. When one begins to look for references, one encounters the biggest obstacle – the lack of documented history. Then there are different versions regarding the deadlines. But, soon, there may be some clarity on this.

Famous litterateur Dr. Vilas Chintaman Deshpande, former secretary of Vidarbha Sahitya Sangh (VSS), endeavors to document the history of Marathi theater in Vidarbha. “The Hitavada” spoke to him and tried to find out more about the development of Marathi theater in the region in the pre-independence era, and some interesting details came out.

According to Dr. Deshpande, who was a member of the Literature Sub-Committee of the Nagpur Tercentenary Celebrations Committee, the start of the railway service served as a starting point for the Marathi theater in Vidarbha. The first train arrived at Amravati (West Vidarbha) in November 1865 and Nagpur (East Vidarbha) in January 1866. Pune Collector had sent Haribhau Pandit, Daji Waman Oke and others to Nagpur for English teaching . They used to talk to Sitabuldi at the place where the Rajaram Sitaram Dixit Library is located today.

In 1867 a drama “Pramatta Patan” was written in Amravati. According to Dr. Deshpande, although his manuscript copy is available, the name of the author is not available. We can say that it is Vidarbha’s first drama. His shows were held in temples, he added.

According to Dr. Deshpande, there are also other references dating back to 1835 when Pandharinath Sansthan was founded in Achalpur. He played an active role in promoting the cause of drama in Vidarbha. In 1867, Narhari Balwant Deshpande had founded Bawan Ekka Sansthan. Dramas have been written on episodes of the great Indian epics “Ramayan” and “Mahabharat”. There was another ‘Bavishi’ organization. Dr Deshpande said these two organizations – Bavishi and Bawan Ekka Sansthan – merged in 1962 but later closed.

In August 1873, the first play was written in Vidarbha. However, it was not staged. Haribhau Pandit had written ‘Shrimant Peshwe’, which was the first written play, and his review was published in ‘Vividh Dnyan Vistar’, Dr Deshpande said. Ghantayya Naidu, a resident of Jabalpur, who had been transferred to Nagpur, wrote the play ‘Keshari Mandil’ in 1884. Also, ‘Sangeet Bayki

Kawa’ and another drama were published in ‘Neerajollas’ magazine.

An interesting development took place in 1876. Nana Soni (after whom Soni Galli in Sitabuldi is named), had heard of the dramas of the legendary Vishnudas Bhave. Inspired, Soni founded Nagpur’s first drama company. He also wrote songs and directed the drama in Mumbai. It was widely appreciated. It was Vidarbha’s first drama company, Dr Deshpande added.

In 1890, an article in Dr. Deshpande’s book ‘Natyasanskruti’ reveals, Shridharpant Parkhi, founder of New English High School, had started a theater company in 1890. Over time, many good writers emerged. SK Kolhatkar had written “Veertanay”, “Muknayak” and “Mativikaar”. Veer Wamanrao Joshi had written ‘Rakshasi Mahatvakanksha’ and ‘Randundubhi’ (the song ‘Parvashta Paash Daivi’ from this drama is still very popular today. It was sung by Master Dinanath Mangeshkar).

By the time Marathi theater had become popular in the region. Locals held performances of ‘Sangeet Saubhadra’ and ‘Sangeet Manapman’ etc. to visit.

In 1927-28, there were only two theaters in Nagpur. One was Venkatesh Theater (later it became Shyam Talkies) and Rajaram Tulshiram Theater (now Sut Market in Gandhibagh). According to Dr. Deshpande’s article in his book “Natyasanskruti”, several theater groups were born in Nagpur. In 1902 Nagpur Amateur Club was founded which was later renamed Mahal Amateur Club. Sahitya Sampadak Mandal (1921), Abhinav Natya Mandir (1935), Nagpur Natya Mandal (1940) were also active groups in the respective periods. Interestingly, it was in 1939 that Abhinav Natya Mandir caused something of a revolution by taking the initiative to let women play female characters in dramas.

Asked about the idea behind writing a book on the evolution of Marathi theater in Vidarbha, Dr Vilas Chintaman Deshpande told ‘The Hitavada’ that there is no compiled history available. “The lack of documentation is a big challenge. Information is collected piecemeal and then verified instead of relying entirely on oral accounts. The Vidarbha theatrical movement was rich and the cultural reception was so great that theater companies based in Mumbai or Pune used to tour Vidarbha to revive their fortunes, whenever they were in crisis,” said he added.

Dr. Deshpande is careful to go through the available folders and then check them. There are countless references and accounts of the growth of Marathi theater in the post-independence era. However, finding authentic references for the pre-independence era is a difficult task. Dr. Deshpande accepted this responsibility and compiled the details for his book.

In signing, he makes an important observation: “The theater depends very much on the patronage of people. Thus, the story of the development of Marathi theater in Vidarbha also represents an account of social patronage of the content, intent and presentation of dramas of the time. Moreover, it helps us understand the cultural sensitivities of the time. Interesting indeed!

James C. Tibbs