On August 7, 1987, Ashok Hande staged the first play by Chaurang, titled Mangalgani Dangalgani at Shivaji Park, Dadar. The play, which presented the history of Maharashtra of over 700 years, including its poetry and music starting right from Sant Dhyaneshwar to today’s poets, went on to become a roaring success. The support gave the right impetus to Chaurang, and today, the group has staged 1,800 shows of the musical and has 20 productions to its credit.
From the start, Hande wanted to ensure that all the plays are musicals that highlight aspects of India’s rich culture and tradition. “Music has been an integral part of our culture. In India, we have songs for everything starting from birth to death. I use music to convey a thought, a message,” says 57-year-old Hande. The aim was also to tell the younger generation about India’s rich cultural heritage. “There are many things that the younger generation seems to have missed out on. Our plays give them an opportunity to discover our culture and keep it alive,” adds Hande.
Such a long journey
Hande, who was into acting, directing and singing, started Chaurang, with a group of 35 actors. Soon, the group expanded and along with Marathi musicals, they started staging Hindi musicals too. His first Hindi show was Awaaz Ki Duniya, which premiered in 1994.
Presented by 70 artists, it showcased the rich heritage of Hindi film songs over the years with national integration as the central theme. “Azadi 50 is another production that was a great success. The show traces the history of Indian independence where I question the meaning of independence. The two and a half hour play looked at the contributions of great freedom fighters and portrays our freedom struggle. It had 150 artists,” recalls Hande.
Apart from these, Chaurang has also staged biographies of Lata Mangeshkar, Madhubala and many others. Every play has elements of music, dance, narration and drama in them. Many also have clippings and videos shown alongside to make it an engaging experience. The group has staged plays not just in India but also in the UK, US, Dubai and Europe.
The last show that was staged on March 12 this year was called Mee Yashwant, and it was the biggest show Chaurang has ever staged. The play about the life of Yashwantrao Chavan, and featured 600 artists. It was premiered at the Gateway of India. “Former President, Pratibha Patil, attended the show. After seeing it, breaking protocol, she walked on to the stage, congratulated me on my efforts and praised the show,” reminisces Hande.
According to him, his plays don’t just attract elders but are a big draw with youngsters as well. “The average age of our artists is 21 to 25 years. A large part of our audience members are youngsters. We appeal to the young and we want to make sure carry forward the legacy of keeping alive our tradition and culture,” he adds.