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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > Ramu Ramanathans book Mumbai Murmurings tells the tales of citys theatres

Ramu Ramanathan’s book Mumbai Murmurings tells the tales of city's theatres

Updated on: 14 April,2024 06:29 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Team SMD |

Playwright and director Ramu Ramanathan’s book Mumbai Murmurings is a treasure trove of candid anecdotes and conversations with some of the city’s theatre greats. What’s evident is a deep connection that’s still fighting to survive

Ramu Ramanathan’s book Mumbai Murmurings tells the tales of city's theatres

Ramu Ramanathan at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Girgaon Chowpatty, which has been home to many inter-collegiate theatre festivals. Pic/Atul Kamble

H for Hemu Adhikari

Hemukaka, the last of the theatre Mohicans.

Hemchandra Adhikari exited in 2018. I was to meet him and collect a copy of his latest book. I couldn’t.

The last time I met him was on the Mumbai streets. His frail frame was undeterred. He was protesting the brutal murders of [rationalist Narendra] Dabholkar and [CPI leader Govind] Pansare, and [activist MM] Kalburgi. And before that, I met him at a seminar at the Podar-Ruia College; he was exiting with his buddy Kamlakar Nadkarni. “Ghari ye, khoop bolaycha”, (Come home, we have to talk) he said.

He was the sum total of many things. A scientist at BARC, a science activist with the Lokvidnyan Chalval (People’s Science Movement), an actor in cult plays like Dhol Tashe, a voice for the Prayogik Rangbhoomi as well as the Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan at Dharavi.

I had a session where I heard Adi Marzban’s radio plays with Hemukaka. He recalled Mumbai grinding to a halt on the days Adi Marzban plays were broadcast. Hemukaka said, “Adi was ghettoised as Parsi theatre, but with plays like Balwanti ni Baby, he left his stamp on the stage. He set high standards for theatre.”

We travelled by train after a Vijay Tendulkar memorial. Hemukaka spoke about many things — his cult plays and the children’s plays for Sulabha Deshpande; his 101% commitment to the theatre cause, be it Rangayan, Chhabildas, Awishkar. But what (did) Hemukaka admired him most for?“Having the guts to take punga,” he said. “I knew if we got into a scrap, ‘Ten’ was in our corner of the boxing ring. Today there is no one.”

We spoke about Pravin Joshi. For his theatre craft, one-act plays, and the finesse and form that epitomises the best of Gujarati theatre in Mumbai. Hemu kaka recalled the brothers, Pravin and Arvind Joshi, rocking the toughest of audiences in the Gujarati version of Sleuth, plus a sensitive production of Madhu Rye’s Kumar ni Agashi. Today, Gujarati theatre needs another Pravinbhai.

Hemukaka said, “Ideally, a Joshi. But I would prefer Umashanker Joshi!”

Greenroom Gupshup: We met at inter-school play competitions. I wanted to edit a science magazine.

I would say, “We don’t have a single science magazine in this country.”

He would reply, “We don’t have a single science play too.”

Then we sat in silence in that darkish auditorium. When will we, the people, have a scientific temper!

A for Athol Fugard in Mumbai

Mumbai has had a longish love affair with Fugard, an Afrikaner who writes in English. There was Valley Song adapted into Goonj by KK Raina, and Salim Ghouse’s honest production of Boesman and Lena.

Vikram Kapadia directed Master Harold and the Boys, rated as one of Fugard’s best works. I saw a performance in the Prithvi Cafe (the play transpires in a cafe). The show was special: the cast had two black actors and one white actor. There were black students in the audience who hissed and snarled at the white man’s hypocrisy. For that one hour or so, the tension was palpable. The Black vs White acquired a roughish edge. It was a first-hand insight into the injustice and pain of apartheid in Africa.

Then there was the enthralling three-and-a-half-hour production of Blood Knot (without an interval). The play is about two half-brothers, one black and one white. Enacted by Shivkumar Subrahmanyam and Tom Alter, it is one of the best pieces of theatre on Mumbai’s stage. The production was spartan and minimalist, and the political slant of the play searing. 

With this sort of a cast, Fugard made a mockery of the apartheid government’s policy of segregated theatre audiences.

I spoke to the black South African students in the audience.

They said, “Naturally, the government was peeved with Mr Fugard. So they revoked his passport for four years.”

This prevented Fugard from international travel and performing his plays overseas.

Fugard was one of the few who began improvizing with black actors. He staged plays in the ghettoes and bastis of the country. Fugard and his cast would move guerilla style, from venue to venue badly-lit churches and community centres. The audiences were poor migrant labourers and the residents of camp townships. Fugard’s plays, at all times, were political, and mirrored the frustrations of the audience. This was “live” theatre. The audience, moved by the drama, was applauding, crying and interjecting.

Greenroom Gupshup: Occasionally, one gets a sense of the same in unexpected corners of Mumbai.

In the 90s, when Tamasgir Raghuvir Khedkar belted out a number, the audience of thousands at Vashi Municipal Market applauded by hurling plastic chairs into the air. In the good old days, they would hurl their pheta (turbans) in appreciation. But chair-tossing was scary. Someone could get hurt.

Khedkar smartly stepped in and calmed the audience by saying, “The difference between a common man and a neta is the neta will never let go of his chair.”

The audience loved it. The netas on stage became bashful.

Fugard would have smiled at that sort of poetic justice.

Excerpted with permission from Mumbai Murmurings: 213 Tiny Tales of Theatre; Manipal Universal Press

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