From popular plays to premiering productions, and experimental work to literary adaptations, the NCPA’s Pratibimb Marathi Natya Utsav 2024 presents a tapestry of events that reflect, celebrate, question and grapple with the world we live in.

By Reshma O. Pathare

Known for its rich legacy across a wide spectrum of genres—be it social satire, black humour, folk art-inspired, modern love stories, contemporary issue based themes or adaptations of classics—the effervescent spirit of Marathi theatre is once again set to be encapsulated on the stages of the NCPA through its flagship festival, Pratibimb Marathi Natya Utsav.

In what could well become an ode to the multifarious character of Marathi theatre, the three-day festival returns this year with play and poetry readings, theatre tours, workshops on the fundamentals of acting by well-known actor Priyadarshan Jadhav and stage design by noted art director Macchindra Shinde and, most of all, an array of plays presenting a colourful tapestry of emotions.

 

LAUGHTER AND TEARS

The festival opens with the premiere of Patra Patri, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the changing times, delivered through handwritten letters. Preferring to call it a visual enactment of humorous letters sent by two aging friends to each other rather than a play, director-actor Vijay Kenkre says, “The idea of adapting Dilip Prabhavalkar’s Patra Patri for the stage struck me because I could see his acclaimed performance quality reflected in his writing style. Hence, we teamed up with Neeraj Shirvaikar to adapt the book into a performance piece that is sure to be savoured by our listeners, which is what I prefer to call our audience.”

Theatre stalwart Damu Kenkre’s son, the directoractor also counts Pu La Deshpande—his boss during his stint at the NCPA—among the mentors who shaped his innate understanding of Marathi theatre and love for a variety of genres. Patra Patri appealed to him for its innocent and amusing banter that led to social and political observations, depicted onstage through crazy occurrences and intricately woven characters.

In stark contrast to this humorous offering is Kavi Jaato Tenvha…, a musical play-reading directed by Amit Vaze, on the poetic works of Manik Sitaram Godghate, known by his pen name Grace. Vaze, whose similar endeavour, Priy Bhai, Ek Kavita Havi Aahe, which was part of Pratibimb 2023, has received popular acclaim, felt an innate urge to unravel the genius of the muchsidelined poet Grace after reading a magazine article written by Dr. Sameer Kulkarni. “Kavi Grace was one of Marathi literature’s poetic greats. But unfortunately, he never received the plaudits that his contemporaries like Kusumagraj or Vinda Karandikar did. The core of Kavi Grace’s poetry was grief, which probably made his works difficult to understand. But to denounce and boycott him by labelling him ‘an eccentric, absurd poet’ was a grave injustice and indicative of a deeply rooted elimination culture.” Kavi Jaato Tenvha… is Vaze’s attempt to pay an ode to this poetic genius in a combination of music, poetry and performances that utilises space and lighting to bring out the abstract magic of Grace’s multi-layered words.

 

CLOSURE AND DISCLOSURES

Love and relationships have always formed an important part of the theatre and in the Marathi language, the theme has been explored in myriad forms from humorous romances to tragic love stories. This year, Pratibimb will showcase two interesting love stories, both with a twist. Known for her penchant for exploring the layers of human behaviour and relationships in her writing, Irawati Karnik is bringing her hugely popular play called Jar Tar Chi Goshta, directed by Adwait Dadarkar and Ranjit Patil. It is the story of a divorced couple who thought they had attained closure until a chance meeting leads to festering wounds, eruption of concealed resentment and overall chaotic situations that change the course of their futures. “It is a love-hate comedy that seeks to examine what closure may look like after meaningful relationships end. It delves into what forms one’s sense of identity and engages with contemporary notions of friendship, love and happiness,” says Karnik, who wrote the play to take an honest look at the complexity of today’s relationships in the context of the socio-economic forces that dictate our lives. Jar Tar Chi Goshta also breaks stereotypes about life after divorce and explores how two people may find friendship with each other after a broken marriage. The production is the closing play of Pratibimb 2024.

Examining the dark hue of love, where pain and brokenness become the language for bringing two people together beyond conventional norms like marriage, is playwright Niranjan Pedanekar’s Love is Hanikarak, directed by Anupam Barve. Pedanekar was keen to explore a non-linear structure and puzzle-like construction of the plot, which sees the lovers (friends) constantly suffering physical and emotional injuries. The characters meet at places such as sick rooms, hospitals and funerals, and develop a bond through disclosures expressed in the language of pain. When asked why he chose to pen a story about star-crossed lovers from the lens of pain for an audience that usually revels in happy endings, Pedanekar says, “Not all stories have happy endings. Stories with unhappy or ambiguous endings make us think about the choices that the characters have made in their lives. Also, the opening up of alternative, flexible spaces and exposure to varied mediums like web-series and podcasts have made audiences more accepting of change.”

 

BOUNDARIES, DESPAIR AND SURRENDER

Pedanekar teams up with Mohit Takalkar for Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta Ghanta, a thought-provoking adaptation of Sam Steiner’s 2015 play, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons. It examines a couple—in which the two people have been raised very differently and as adults, hold different ideals—that sees their relationship unravelling after the government issues a new law forbidding all citizens from speaking more than 140 words per day. This strange law not only threatens the basis of the couple’s closeness, but also puts their relationship to the test due to the radically different ways in which the man and the woman react to the situation.

The tone of relationships straining under trying circumstances also reverberates in playwright-director Swapnil Jadhav’s Astitva in which a family’s sole breadwinner makes the decision to vacate his home in South Mumbai, which leads to such extreme reactions from his family members that the man’s existence itself becomes a potential threat to the existence of his loved ones.

Golkonda Diamonds, the winning play of the NCPA’s theatre writing competition Darpan, delves into humanity’s constant battle against the juggernaut of the system. Written by Yogeshwar Bendre, the plot unfolds during a train journey where two co-passengers, an artist and an IT professional, navigate their moral conflicts.

Datta Patil, the writer of the award-winning play Kalgitura which emerged as the winner of Darpan 2023, continues his search for provenance and identity through Dagad aani Maati. The play can perhaps be best described as the story of a vulnerable quest and a confused present in which the youth of a small village are forced to surrender to a life of inevitable compromise. The play reflects the despondency of the central character who lives in Babhulgaon and is rejected from a job because he fails to locate it on Google Maps. Deeply saddened by the fact that despite social media proliferating amongst its inhabitants, the village has no identity on the virtual landscape, the protagonist begins digging up nuggets about Babhulgaon to make the world take notice. Patil says, “The quest leads to understanding deep emotions about rejection while also making us realise that we humans are forever connected to our past. When the past is obscured, it leads to a collective identity crisis. Watching this play will make you feel a little sad inside about these faceless people.”

Patil indeed sums up the essence of Pratibimb, which through its performances, expert-led workshops and theatre tours, is a reflection of the vibrant tradition of theatre in Maharashtra. A tradition that entertains, but not without stirring a myriad of thoughts.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2024 issue of the On Stage.