All the city's a stage

Updated: 20 October, 2020 09:59 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

A new online session will pay tribute to Bombay's flourishing theatre scene between the 18th and 19th century

Photograph of a Theatrical Group in Bombay (now Mumbai) from the Lee-Warner Collection: 'Bombay Presidency' by an unknown photographer in the 1870s. Pic/British library
Photograph of a Theatrical Group in Bombay (now Mumbai) from the Lee-Warner Collection: 'Bombay Presidency' by an unknown photographer in the 1870s. Pic/British library

For theatre director and producer Sunil Shanbag, the online space has opened up the possibilities of doing different things related to theatre and not just performances alone. So, as the co-founder of Tamaasha Theatre that is interested in a much wider definition of the art form, it made perfect sense to blend history and sociology, too. Thus, they started a series called Theatrenama, an ongoing monthly-programme where they look at the history of theatre and its making. This weekend, as part of the series, they will be looking at the history of theatre in Bombay from 1776 to 1896.

Vishnudas Bhave Auditorium in Vashi. Pic/Facebook
Vishnudas Bhave Auditorium in Vashi. Pic/Facebook

The reason this particular time period was chosen is because it was when the foundations of the form were laid. "The amazing diversity we have in theatre practice in Bombay was essentially set up here. We may, in the future, do more programmes on the different styles of theatre that emerged but for now, we're stopping here," Shanbag shares.

Vishnudas Bhave. Pic/Wikimedia Commons
Vishnudas Bhave. Pic/Wikimedia Commons

The session will be hosted by Shanbag along with Sharmistha Saha, a researcher and faculty member at IIT Bombay. It will begin by tracing the opening of the first theatre house in 1776, the Bombay Theatre. Built on the Bombay Green (present-day Horniman Circle), it entertained both amateur theatricals and professional touring companies. It had to close down in 1835, and five years later over 400 prominent residents of the city including Jagannath Shankarseth and Framji Cowasji, petitioned Governor Sir James Carnac for a new place of public entertainment. Eventually, Shankarseth donated a building site at Grant Road that really stood out on an empty street, so much so, that eminent journalist KN Kabra referred to it as "an oasis in the desert."

Sharmishta Saha and Rahul Deshpande
Sharmishta Saha and Rahul Deshpande

An interesting fact, according to Shanbag, is how a cross-pollination of forms took place in this period. "The modern theatre as we know it today was brought in by the British. So, you have the colonial style European theatre but you also have someone like Vishnudas Bhave, who comes from Sangli to Bombay with a form of theatre he created called Khel, which is a more sophisticated version of folk forms. But he also goes to the European theatre and is impressed by that, and starts performing there," Shanbag shares. Attendees also get to dive into the journey of Marathi Sangit Natak with noted actor-singer, and grandson of Vasantrao Deshpande, Rahul Deshpande, and director Nipun Dharmadhikari, who have also been reviving the form.

Sunil Shanbag
Sunil Shanbag

The programme that comes with pre-recorded performances and bits of animation, culminates with addressing the events of 1896 because that's when the plague hit the city — that also mirrors the reality we're living today. "There was the emergence of a new medium, too — the cinematograph. It was the new kid on the block that left everybody wondering what the future would look like," Shanbag says.

On October 25, 6 pm
Log on to insider.in
Cost Rs 299

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First Published: 20 October, 2020 09:17 IST

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