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Comparing two traditions: Workers' Theatre movement and Rashtra Seva Dal Kalapathak to trace the circulation of the form of Tamasha in nineteenth and twentieth century

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Duration: 0:20:10 | Added: 21 Dec 2021
Part of the International conference on Maharashtra in September 2021 - Makarand Sathe -Independent scholar, Pune

Comparing Two Traditions: Workers’ Theatre Movement and Rashtra Seva Dal Kalapathak to trace the circulation of the form of Tamasha in nineteenth and twentieth century

Prior to 1842 Maharashtra did not have any theatre in the modern sense. There were many folk forms such as Tamasha, Lalit, Gondhal, Keertan, Powada, Dashavatar, of which Tamasha is the closest to modern theatre. It was a free-flowing form which was very conducive to rebellious and subversive socio-political content. Tamashas, that too of a specific type, had gained a lot of importance, during the period of Bajirao, the second. Debauchery and addiction had been rampant in the community, especially among the elites, i.e. Brahmins. Tamasha was dominated by then by the erotic.

One of the reasons behind promoting the first Marathi play - Sita Swayanvar- in 1842 in the form of a mythological Yakshgan was to counteract the influence of Tamasha. Hundreds of mythological plays followed it

Paradoxically every subversive theatre that followed, especially ones which were against Brahmanical upper class dominance, used Tamasha as form of expression - from Satyashodhaki Jalse and Ambedkari Jalse to Workers' theatre movement, Dalit theatre, Rashtrasevadal Kalapathak and experimental theatre.

I would like to compare two such traditions, namely Workers' theatre movement, which called their theatre 'New Tamashas' (Nave Tamashe) and the Rashtrasevadal Kalapathak which called their plays 'National Tamashas' (Rashtriya Tamashe) and trace the circulation of the form of Tamasha in nineteenth and twentieth century. I propose to do so by comparing two plays written by two writer's belonging to these two traditions, Anna Bhau Sathe to the earlier and P. L. Drshpande to the latter. The name of the 'Rashtriya Tamasha' written by Deshpande was called 'Leader required' (Pudhari Pahije) to which Sathe had answered by a 'New Tamasha' titled 'We got the leader' (Pudhari Milala').

In short, the description of these two theatre traditions:

When Marathi mainstream theatre was going through a dark period from 1930s to 1965, these two theatres flourished.

As Mumbai began to develop into a new, prosperous, industrial centre, from late nineteenth century workers from the rest of Maharashtra began migrating to Mumbai in large numbers. Naturally the city was full of tremendous energy. But there were colliding interests and discordant politics. A powerful and vibrant working-class theatre was born out of all this intense activity and it followed the lines of the major workers’ unions which were affiliated to the Communist Party of India. The most significant aspect of this movement was that even though the plays were created by playwrights who were not highly educated and were performed in front of thousands of workers who also were mostly uneducated, the themes were not dealt with superficially. Although ideologically articulated, it was well informed in its references to global politics.

A parallel current of socio-political theatre also flourishing at the same time was the Rashtrasevadal Kalapathak which belonged to the Socialist Party. It was founded in 1946. Apart from their ideological differences from the Workers’ theatre which clearly belonged to the communists, the major difference was that the writers and performers of Kalapathaks came from middle-class, high-caste backgrounds.

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