It was a typical middle class home, a nuclear family staying in a single room of a chawl in a remote suburb, with a tapering Mangalore tiled leaking roof.
Like many others there wasn’t any background of art or theatre. Pursuing such forms was not at all considered normal.
This was not the era of 1940’s or so still I had to struggle a lot from the beginning like many of my colleagues.
I came across the phenomenon of the theatre accidentally. Each and every Marathi speaking family around me did have a strong affinity towards theatre since long. We had a rich heritage of the Sangeet Nataks usually having mythological themes. The knowledge of singing based on classical ragas was considered primary and the concept of acting out a role was very preliminary.
The first surprise of my life occurred when I did complete my graduation and had started off with a job. I had a longing since my childhood like many others to be a part of the theatre. Theatre was a big word for me. Stage at local Ganesh Utsav was something very fascinating to us. We used to see the local actors in our vicinity roaming here and there the whole year. Once in a year they used to make their mark on the local stage. It used to rain these times and we, the audience used to gather under the leaking tent with water rushing under our seats many a times. Still there was a great rush of boys competing for the seats closer to the stage. Before the volunteers even spread the mattress the boys used to rush for the front seats. While doing so the nuts used to slap the naïve one’s on the back of their heads. The naïve one never used to identify the culprit and would become a matter to laugh at. Sometimes there used to be fights among the nuts as the naïve victim used to turn up as a nut.
Then another quiet but more romantic nut used to throw a stone at the steps nearby and would roar ‘It’s a frog-frog!’ this would create a pandemonium among the girls sitting and chatting on the steps. The audience would roar in to laughter.
All these things would help the rather amateur actors preparing for the act. Amateur was again a big word for these actors. The crowd would slowly become impatient and the boys would start whistling fiercely with their fingers thrust in their mouths. This whistling competition would compel the local drama group for their opening announcement.
The plays would be the exact copies of the commercial plays running at the theatres during those days. Historical and comedy plays were the only types to be performed. The crowd would enjoy these plays. It would enjoy it in real sense or otherwise would find a gullible performer or performers and would start hooting and enjoy…
My school authorities would arrange festival of commercial plays every year for the school building fund. This was a bigger opportunity for the theatre lovers in this area of suburb as one has to travel at least for an hour then to watch these plays.
This festival would be open air and would take place in the winter. Hierarchy of ticket rates would be there and the sitting arrangement would start from cozy coaches and would follow by cozy wooden chairs with coloured cushions. The colours of the nailed cushions would again vary from reds to blues. My family would afford at the most two season tickets that to among last three rows. The wooden chairs here would be cushionless. There were mountains behind and the cool breeze coming from them would add a different dimension to watch the horror plays. As a school going boy I remember two plays distinctly. Both were written and directed by a popular professional theatre person who also performed the main role. One was about a vicious looking doctor, black, ugly with his teeth coming out. He visits a lady to take revenge for his unsuccessfully ended crush on her before her marriage and demands her son. He orders for a meal of her son’s meat. I remember the doctor’s entry in the lady’s house coinciding with the electricity failure. The lady lights a torch and the focus travels over the fully dark stage. Suddenly an ugly face is visible in the round light of the focus and the shrill of the lady is heard. The first act ends.
Another play was from the same set up and was about rebirths of almost all the characters. An old astrologer who calls himself a mathematician predicts about these rebirths of characters to one of the character. He further predicts a murder which actually took place in the previous birth of these characters and he insists that in this birth he can avoid this murder with the help of the characters who would help him in this process.
Other plays which I easily remember were comedies. One was a satire again with the theme of rebirth. The characters in this birth possess completely opposite behavioral patterns to their previous birth and their coming in and out of the characters creates hysteria on the stage.
The other comedy was about the old gentlemen living in a big multistoried chawl. A glamorous young lady comes as a new tenant in the chawl and becomes a centre of attraction among the married men. A crazy young lad makes a mischief by writing a love letter to two of the old gentlemen. He writes this letter by the name of the lady.
I remember two serious plays in those festivals. One was a historical play based on Karna- from Mahabharata and the other I remember was a rather realistic play based on a young girl suffering from cancer. Her journey through the whole process, a melodrama but carried superbly by the brilliant actors of those times. They turned this drama in to reality.
After many years when I got involved in the theatre actively I was able to trace the journey of this form and its distinctive features.
The drama has stints of surprising visuals which have a great impact on the audience; the horror, the suspense, the astrological realities and the reality of the term destiny (?), the comedy and the sorrows of the human life.
And I was able to trace them in my journey right from my childhood.
It also shows audience’s taste developing from the crude style of drama to the realistic one.