Look to the past to find inspiration now

Jul 21, 2012, 01:49 IST | Dhara Vora

Marathi theatre troupe Natyasampada enters its golden jubilee year. Anant Panshikar reminisces about their journey so far

Founded in 1963 by Marathi theatre legend Prabhakar Panshikar, Natyasampada is now managed by his nephew, Anant Panshikar, who plans to revive productions of several of their landmark plays.

Prabhakar Panshikar (standing) as Principal Vidyanand in the Marathi play, Ashrunchi Jhali Phule

“My uncle started the production house in partnership with Mohan Wagh and Vasudeo Kolhatkar. The first play produced under the banner was Mohini,” says Anant, adding, “Most of the initial plays flopped, and the group later split, though amicably.”

It was after the senior Panshikar brought To Mee Navhech to the stage, a play in which he had previously acted that the group started to make a name for itself. Written by Acharya Atre, To Mee Navhech sees Panshikar play the role of Lakhoba Lokhande, a conman, who takes on five different disguises to con women. It was not just his acting that impressed the audience, but also the speed with which Panshikar managed to change his costumes, using the time to exit from one side of the stage to entering from the other.

Prabhakar Panshikar with Marathi literary genius (right) PL Deshpande

The play was also known for its use of the revolving stage, which Panshikar would have dismantled and carried to wherever the performance went. Recalling an incident when they had to use another stage, all did not go according to plan: “Once, during a performance in Vashi, the stage revolved twice without any hitch. The third time, however, it didn’t stop moving until the entire set was destroyed. Fortunately, no one was hurt and, with encouragement from the audience, my uncle continued the performance,” says Anant, who plans to have a big-screen release of the recording of the play as part of the anniversary celebrations.

Natyasampada has also been instrumental in keeping the tradition of Sangeet Natak alive in Marathi theatre. “In 1967, when most of the producers were against doing musical plays, my uncle produced Katyar Kaljyat Ghuslali - a play about the clash of two gharanas. It wasn’t accepted at first, but slowly the play gained recognition and caught the producers’ attention,” says Anant. To date, Natyasampada has kept the tradition alive with plays such as Awagha Ranga Ekachi Zaala.

Natyasampada continues to work on reviving classic plays. “Our audience comprises mostly 20 to 40 year-olds,” says Anant, adding, “Lagnachi Bedi, which is a 75-year-old play, talked about live-in relationships all those years ago.” In keeping with the troupe’s philosophy, Anant brought the Marathi adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot and PL Deshpande’s classic, Varyavarchi Varaat, back last year.

Anant recalls, “The day he passed away, I had a press conference in Kolhapur. He called to ask from the hospital if I had sorted everything. After the conference got over, I got a call informing me about his demise. Even when he was on a ventilator, he kept track of rehearsals.”

Quiz him about one thing he admires the most about his uncle and he says: “He had the knack of building a team. If he was in another city for a performance, and for some reason an actor couldn’t show up, he would know just who to ask to step into the actor’s shoes at the last minute.”

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