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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Junoon... Utkarsh Mazumdar, Bhangwadi theatre

15th June 2015


 Who hasn't been exposed to music.. and how many have remained immune to it Different genres for different people. Different genres for one person. Different genres for different moods

Abhanga, bhajan, gazal, sufiana, choir, regional sugam sangeet , bhav geet and film music, natya sangeet and the ,bollywood gaana bajaana.. the angrezi gaana with their own subsets ! one is spoilt for choice.

Abhanga and bhajans have often soothed my frazzled nerves while re instilling faith in a divine, the marathi bhav geet with songs for every mood, the gazals while coping with a broken heart, the bollywood music - frothy serenades and the soul ful ones... all have been a part of me and most of us.

Over the past few days i have been reading of a marathi sangeet natak being revived. - Katyar kaalzat ghusli. Was also reading about a Gujarati play - maaro piyu gayo rangoon (this one is also being performed in Hindi)

I for one have a very small attention span. Music playing in the background while i go about my chores is what suits me. The melody attracts me first and then the words And yet, a strain, or some words will shake me and I respond to it by either slipping into nostalgia, a bit of a sadness or happiness.

I cannot sit through long recitals especially the classical kinds. i can appreciate the talent but i do not enjoy it much.

I had seen a play called Stories in a song. The play had about 6 or 7 small "natukle" as they would probably call it in marathi. plays within the play.. each, an independent story but linked together because each had music as a and a music lover. so there was a kajri, a lavni, a soothing sufi, hindustani , a nautanki and many more. Stories in a Song had soulful singing, trained voices, sincere voices. Plus the duration of each song was perfectly measured out and spaced out. it appealed to me who is not a trained listener.. I loved it. i saw the play twice.

Piya Behroopiya was another play i saw which had live musicians and singing. I don't know if it classifies as a musical.. but music and song were attractive elements in the play.
and i thought once again about the appeal of music. how do they think of presenting a play as a musical? writing a regular screenplay of words/ dialogs is by itself challenging enough.. and then a musical?

how do they select and create the format... the songs, the kind of music... folk or classical , semi classical or light. how do they arrive at that right winning combination which satisfies their creativity and also appeals to the audience?

Just then i chanced upon this event - Matwala Zhumta Sangeet Natak ! An event organised by Junoon Theatre which aims at bringing the arts and the people, closer. The event was a lecture by veteran Gujarati Theatre artiste Utkarsh Mazumdar. Passionate about Musical Theatre, he was to talk about the role of music in theatre. Why has musical theatre captivated audiences through the ages? Are there different styles of performance in this genre? How do they affect the story being told... thus tracing the journey of Gujarati musical theatre from the older Bhangwadi style to more modern expressions. Insights into musical theatre and performances through an actor's eyes.

It was a rainy evening today and probably deterred a few, yet there we were, around 15 of us at the Bhau Daji Laad Museum at Byculla.

Utkarsh Masumdar, the veteran, welcomed the audience with a melodious "Natak Jova Aavo" rendition. Bhangwadi singing he said was more of a folk art. these were not songs composed for theatre. They were however incorporated in Gujarati theatre, much like the Bhavai.
The black and white era of Doordarshan with its single and then 2 channel transmission has done people of my generation a whole lot of good, it exposed us to regional flavours- music dance, cinema, theatre, folk theatre...

Bhavai... I remembered it from the DD days. "Taa Thaiyya Thaiyyaa Thaiyyyaaa Thaa"... the Tootari / trumpet letting out those hoarse hoots.. the Rangla and the rangli. I dont remembter the Rangli much but i distinctly remember the artist who played Rangla. Even today as he appears as 'Natukaka' in the serial 'Taarak Mehta ka oolta chashma' My mind immediately connects him with Rangla. Ghanshyam Nayak is his name.

We were treated to an audio visual of the Bhavai for a couple of minutes. Infact the whole lecture was interspersed with such snippets and live rendition and performances by Utkarsh Majzumdar. He even moved amongst the audience, involving some in a dance step too . At his age he is blessed with a voice which is melodious and also khankhaneet when reqd. He is of nimble feet, breaking into a garba or a small shuffle at times.

Bhavai , he said, originated in the 14th century , with 360 veshas of which 300 are now lost. here is a Wiki link on Bhavai

the first gujarati play was staged in the oct of 1853 by one Mr Dalal. The name of the play - Rustom Sohrab. the performance also included a farce - Dhanji Gharak.

Utkarsh Mazumdar spoke about the Bhangwadi theatre which existed near Kalbadevi. Most plays of those times were musicals he said. Song dance and action were integral components of theatre and these were also defined by Bharatamuni he said. theatre thus was a complete entertainment for society in those times.

Gujarati and Marathi theatre both had the sangeet nataks, The Marathi Natya Sangeet leaned more towards classical singing, where the singer would stand steady in one place, sing and emote. The gujarati musical was about the singers singing , emoting and using the entire stage while performing the song.

A musical would have about 20 to 30 songs. The singing was accompanied by live music with musicians seated in a pit in front of the stage. The members of the audience had their favourite performers and songs. Several encores would be demanded. Every "once More" would be honoured and most plays would end only in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes the actual song performed on stage would have 3 or 4 verses and during an encore other verses of the same song would be rendered. those were times when there were no reproductions by way of cassettes or cd's. the encores would sometimes be for memorizing lyrics.

those were the days when 'Gaanewaalis' were also a repository of music. however only the moneyed few could indulge . to cater to the likes, demands and tastes of these patrons, these gaanewaalis with their musical troupe were regulars at the Sangeet Natak . With their requests for encores, they would note down the lyrics and notations and perform it for their patrons.
The 'Once More' requests from the audience were often accompanied by a token of appreciation. Money. No ! Notes were not offered or showered,. Little velvet pouches which held a silver coin or more would be hurled at the favorite artiste in appreciation of his talent. And to avoid injury to the artiste because of these 'missiles', a fine gauze curtain would separate the stage and the audience when the songs were performed. the curtain did not hinder visibility but it did protect the artistes.
The commencement of a theatrical performance at auditoriums today is by ringing a bell. Pahili Ghanta, Dusri Ghanta, teeri ghanta are terms I hear even today. In those days they used to blast Gunpowder, he said.

Most actors would have an extension to their name prompted by the popularity of the character they enacted on stage. Those were times when women did not perform on stage. The male actors donned the female garb and enacted the woma's role. If Marathi Sangeet Nataks boasted of a Bal Gandharva, Gujarati theatre had JaiShankar Sundari. He had acted in a gujarati play Saubhagya Sundari an adaptation of the Shakespear's Othello, He was Sundari in the play, impersonating the character of Desdemona. That was it. Jaishankar Bhojak was rechristened Jaishankar Sundari.
Coming back to the production....the sets required for the play would be painted in detail on curtains specially imprted form Germany. These could create a 3D effect enhancing the performance. The curtains were moved in place according to the scenes being enacted.

Theatre influenced films and Raja Harishchandra became the first movie. ( This movie was scripted by a Gujarati, he said with pride. ) Not just themes, the Songs from the Musicals were included in movies too. Who hasn't heard of 'Mohe panaghat pe nandlal " from Moghul e azam? That song first appeared in the Gujarati play Veer Chhatrasal , depicting the life of the hero from Madhya Pradesh. As such, the play had songs in Hindi. This song, "Mohe Panghat pe" was included in Moghul e azam without credit to the Gujarati poet who composed it -- Shri Raghunath Brahmbhatt fondly known as ‘Rasakavi’ in Gujarati literature A legal battle ensued and K Asif had to acknowledge and apologise.
Mazumdar also spoke about Melodrama... exaggeration in movements, acting, and rendering of dialogues. this was mainly to cater to teh viewers in the last rows. . the loud exagerated acting and the dialogues delivered in booming voices when microphones were not around, would aid him in savoring the play from his disadvantageous location in the theatre.

Bhangwadi theatre was popular for as realistic presentation as possible. During a Ramayana performance, the earth would open up and 'take' Sita... this set would be well equipped with trapdoors he said. 'Gaadi, Ghoda would be brought on stage too"

Unfortunately we as a socitey have no respect for history , he continued. Where once upon a time stood Bhangwadi theatre, today there are no traces of its glory, except for a cutpiece centre which shares the name - Bhangwadi Cutpiece centre. The heartbroken artiste did not fail to highlight his dismayy in a play entitled Master Phoolmani, "To buy or not to buy" was a catchline !
The songs in a Musical served the purpose of carrying a play forward and could not be tampered with or removed .

It was interesting to hear of popular gujarati artists - manoj Joshi and Dilip Joshi who made their debut on stage with Tak dhina din, a gujarati play adapted from a well known marathi play "Tour Tour" , They themselves were college students then. Mazumdar regaled the audience with incidents of how they deal with situations when the artiste doesnt show up . Tense yet hilarious moments
he shared another incident when he was reprimanded for his appearance in a McDonald's commercial by a Gujarati gentleman. "how can you eat chicken". Mazumdar put the gentle,an in place by asking him how many gujarati plays of his had he seen. None, it turned out to be. "how can theatre survive without patrons? how can we survive without patrons?" were Mazumdar's counter questions to the gentleman.

Mazumdar thanked his wife for being a great support. She along with their daughter wre part of the audience. He wished there was a more keen and enthusiastic audience for theatre.
the evening was a learning experience... of the evolution of gujarati theatre and its development. the journey of Sangeet natak with live singing on stage to the lip syncing to recorded songs today. Yess... he demonstrated that too.

Mumbai Local of Junoon theatre aims to bring the arts closer to the audience. it sure succeeded in bringing out the person from inside the personality that is Utkarsh Mazumdar.
for me it was reiterating to myself - i love stories !
"once upon a time !" - these words continue to enthrall me. !

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