A scene for Dabholkar

Updated: Jun 29, 2019, 08:29 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

Students from a Pune college with rich theatre tradition started by Vikram Gokhale bring a production on superstitions to Mumbai, as tribute to Narendra Dabholkar

Theatre, when made with earnest intent, can have a sense of timing that could even surprise its creators. Andhar, a Marathi play on superstitions that students of Abasaheb Garware Mahavidyalaya in Pune made last year as their tribute to Narendra Dabholkar, was first staged in Mumbai as part of Thespo, the youth theatre movement. A year later, as the Agam Kalamandal production returns in the form of a full-fledged professional play on the Thespo@Prithvi platform, news reports are rife with chilling details of how the rationalist's murderer shot him in cold blood on a rainy morning in Pune six years ago.

"Here was a man who had devoted his life to fighting andhashraddha [superstitions]. We had to do something for him," says director Suraj Gadgile, who took the metaphor of light and darkness (andhaar in Marathi) to represent faith and blind belief. Set in a fictional village that represents all parts of Maharashtra, the play revolves around the life of its residents, who having literally lived in darkness so far, don't take kindly to the man who brings a source of light to the village.

Andhar is set in a fictional village that represents Maharashtra
Andhar is set in a fictional village that represents Maharashtra

"We are not going into the terrain of whether god exists or not, but we do convey the idea clearly that if there is a god, he/she wouldn't approve of how women are treated in society and the injustice meted out to his creations," adds Gadgile. Ratnadeep Shinde, production manager of the theatre group, elaborates on the many symbols that have been woven into Andhar. "It portrays three generations of a family, where the youngest member — a child — is caught in a dilemma of whether to carry on with the traditional practices his father adheres to, or go with the new path shown by the man who brings light to the village." And for that, the director evokes a typical image of rural childhood, where kids suspend themselves upside down from a tree. The symbol of a lantern stands for enlightened rationality.

The plight of women in rural areas around the world, too, finds its way into the play, where a South African tradition of whipping widows is referred to. Taboos associated with menstruation highlight the larger point of the play. "We don't even know why we follow most of these traditions," Shinde points out.

Ratnadeep Shinde and Suraj Gadgile
Ratnadeep Shinde and Suraj Gadgile

Agam Kalamandal, the Pune college's theatre group, has a rich history. Gadgile and Shinde tells us that it was started by veteran actor Vikram Gokhale in 1966. And since then, it has given several music composers and popular actors to Marathi cinema including Kshitij Patwardhan and Hemant Dhome. Plays produced in the college are staged regularly in Purshottam, a well-known inter-college festival in Pune, where they have won several awards and received critical acclaim.

But when Gadgile, who completed his BA in Marathi, and Shinde, who did his bachelor's in English literature, share how they would like to receive some more support from the college, it speaks of the inherent challenges of theatre, which only get magnified for young theatre artistes. "The grant that we receive from college is not enough for us to be able to cover our production costs and travel with our plays across Maharashtra — something we have been doing consistently for the last three to four years," they admit. "For this, each member of the group contributes so we can stage our productions professionally and hopefully, break even with the ticket price," they add, which in turn, points to the inherent ingenuity among artistes.

On July 2, 9 pm; July 3, 7 pm
At Prthvi Theatre, Juhu.
Log on to bookmyshow.com
Entry Rs 175

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