(Last Updated on : 31/07/2014)
Gujarati theatre has a rich history and tradition with prosperous tradition of writing and performing Sanskrit theatre till the fourteenth century, when a folksinger of religious narratives, Asaita Thakar, start on a participatory form called Bhavai
using mythological and historical themes and characters, creating awareness among audiences on social issues. Types of Gujarati theatre is more than 150 years old and has produced many actors, directors and writers with tremendous talents.
Origin and History of Gujarati Theatre
It is often said Asaita Thakar, the popular folk singer wrote around 360 acts for performance. This was the phase when there was a lot of interactions made, but during the mid-nineteenth century some of the interactive modes were over looked. The first Gujarati production was regarded as Rustam Zabuli and Sohrab (1853). By 1868, thirty troupes operated in Mumbai (among them the Parsee Stage Players, Victoria, Elphinstone, Alfred, and Zoroastrian companies), owned mainly by Parsis led by Kaikhushro Kabraji (1842 - 1904), Dadabhai Patel (1840-76), Cowasji Khatao (1857-1916), and Jehangir Khambata (1856-1916), which involved middle- and upper middle-class Gujarati and Parsi with mythological drama and clever Indian version of Shakespearean plays mingling Sanskrit theatre
and European dramaturgy.
There were contributions from Hindu authors like Ranchhodbhai Dave (1837-1923), who wrote unique theatre plays on mythological themes (Harishchandra, 1875) and also preached issues on social reform (Lalita dukhdarshak, `Lalita`s Manifold Sufferings`, 1866), staged by the Gujarati Natak Mandali (founded 1878).
The development of Gujarati Theatre
was mainly brought with the hands of three serious dramatists like Dahyabhai Jhaveri (1867-1902), and the brothers Moolji and Vaghaji Asharam Oza (1850-97). They helped in the introduction of new designs of stage, like tableaux, social themes, and the traditional Garba dance. The Wankaner Aryahit Vardhak Natak Mandali and Morbi Arya Subodh Natak Mandali made its fame in the Kathiawar peninsula as travelling repertories. But, in general, the styles remained melodramatic, together with trendy dresses, two dimensional painted backdrops and musical that had always remained an essential part of theatre.
The performances of Amrit Keshav Nayak (1877-1907), Bapulal Nayak (1879 -1947), Jaishankar Sundari (1889 - 1975), Jaishankar Sundari (left) and Bapulal Nayak brough in some fresh air of performances to Gujarati theatre. Slowly, the role of director were carved out by Bapulal Nayak, Mulchand Mama, and Muljibhai Khushalbhai Nayak (1893-1971), who directed talented actors and actresses like Ashraf Khan, Anandji Kabutar and Munnibai, Motibai in plays by Raghunath Brahmbhatt (1892-1983), Prabhulal Dwivedi (1892-1962), Pragji Dossa (1907-97), Gaurishankar Vairati (Virat nagri, `Virat City`), Parmanand Trapajkar (Anarkali), and Prafulla Desai (Sarvodaya, "Development for All").
Theatre Companies of Gujarat
Some popular Gujarati theatres in Mumbai are-
: Kamlesh Mota and Babul Bhavsar established this in 1992 with an aim to provide a message to the masses while entertaining them through the plays. This Gujarati theatre in Mumbai
presents regular Hindi and Gujarati plays. It is also associated with the premier institution of art "Sangeet Kala Kendra". The plays of this theatre are staged in the UAE and East Africa. The most prestigious play by Naath Theatre is "Saraswati Chandra", which won five awards by the Transmedia Software Private Limited in the year 2003-04`.
: This theatre has promoted the Gujarati literature and culture to a wider audience. It tries to create an interest and appreciation of the rich Gujarati cultural heritage among the young generation through theatre. It is considered as the only Gujarati theatre group in the city, which is modern in sensibility.
: It is one of the most talent creator Gujarati theatre group in Mumbai.
The Gujarati theatre has its traditional stronghold in Vadodara
, where most of the theatre groups have their origin. Mumbai
has become a good host of Gujarati theatres because of lots of Gujarati peoples living there. But the traditional Gujarati taste has been changed according to the "Mumbaikars". But the older theatre personalities and theatre goers do not welcome this new form.
Senior and popular artistes like Jaya Bachchan
and Shatrughan Sinha
also ventured in the famous Gujarati theatre production house named the Sanjay Goradia production.
Another well-known Gujarati theatre is the `Avni Theatre production`. It is very famous with the NRI Gujarati audiences. This theatre was started by a theatre personality Amee Trivedi in the year 2000 with an aim to set up its own tradition. Now, this theatre`s name has become must to remember with the Gujarati theatre. The debut venture of Avni was `Lajja Taney Maara Samm`, which was the biggest hit of the year 2000-01. It toured seven countries namely Kenya, UAE, The United States Of America, Belgium, The United Kingdom, Holland, Canada and Portugal, at a stretch and did 51 shows in just 104 days. Another play by "Avni" was "Lagangaadu Chaale Aadu" which got world premiere in London on 8th November 2003 and became the first play in Gujarati theatre to get an international premiere. The same play was staged to United States in 2005 and the Gujarati people there loved it very much.
Plays of Gujarati Theatre
The Gujarati play - Rustom, Jabuli and Sorab, which are based on the popular dramatic tale of Shah Nama, is considered as the beginning of Gujarati theatre. It was staged at the Grant Road Theatre of Mumbai on October 29 in 1853. "Bhavai", the popular folk form of Gujarat was not much related to theatre earlier but now it has been incorporated into most of the Gujarati theatres. Now, there has been a significant development in the theatre of Gujarat, which includes experimental and street theatre work of Hasmukh Baradi`s Garage Theatre. Now, the issues, which are raised in Gujarati theatre, are like bride price, witches, women`s health, alcoholism, vaccination etc.
The Gujarati theatre actors got exposure when the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Mumbai) and the Bombay State Competitions held between 1950 and 1960 provided most of the projects to the professional Gujarati theatre. For example, Pravin Joshi, Vijay Dutt and Kanti Madia were launched in the 1953 competition. In the same way, some of the intercollegiate competitions organized by the Indian National Theatre in 1975-78 gave break to the talents like Mahendra Joshi, Paresh Raval, Mukesh Raval, Siddharth Randeria, Homi Wadia, Sameer Khakhar, Nikita Shah, Sujata Mehta, Daisy Rani and Latesh Shah. Now, they are trying to establish younger generation of theatre professionals.
Gujarati people love to patronize their mother-tongue plays and hence Gujarati theatre is a very serious and lucrative business in metros like Mumbai. Gujarati theatre is more than 150 years old so with the time, it has gone a lot of changes with a leaning to the new generation and trends. The audience has loved the performances of actors like Siddharth Randeria, Feroz Bhagat, Dilip Joshi, Tiku Talsania, Padmarani and Apara Mehta in the Gujarati Theatres.
It is said that a Gujarati play named "Harishchandra" influenced very much the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi
. The Gujarati theatre has inspired thinking of the people, created social awareness and national spirit during pre independence days.
Modern Gujarati Theatre
In the late 1980s, the Parsi dramatic companies laid the foundation of modern Gujarati theatre. These theatre companies brought western techniques and themes as well as music to form a renewed vernacular theatre. Thus, the original plays like "Kumar Ki Chhat Par" and "Kahat Kabira" by renowned playwrights like Madhurai, Vinayak Purohit, Shiv Kumar Joshi and others were revived.
In the centenary year of the 1857 uprising, the Indian National Theatre
staged a Gujarati play "Bharelo Agni". It is regarded as a landmark for the non-professional Gujarati Theatre. One of the most versatile Gujarati actresses is Sareeta Joshi, who has dominated in the new Gujarati Theatre for the longest tome. One more talented Gujarati dancer and actress is Mallika Sarabhai
, who made her name for the role of Draupadi
in the world famous playwright Peter Brooke`s "Mahabharata
In the 21st century, the cinema and the TV have taken over the field of entertainment. But the Gujarati theatre has not lost its charm yet. Sometimes the flow of the plays has slowed down and sometimes changes are done to match with the tastes of the audiences. But the Gujarati Theatre has survived along with the new style. Amol Palekar
is one of the recent actors cum filmmaker from Gujarat, who has also tried to revive the Gujarati theatre. "Paheli
" is a film by Amol Palekar, which is based on the local folklores. The Gujarati theatre has also marked its place in the World Theatres through its colourful representation of the plays.
Modern Gujarati Theatre Personalities
The new Gujarati Theatre started to write plays on the great novels and dramas of Gujarati literature with the arrival of CC Mehta. Few of them are "purandar parajay", "avibhakt atma", "putra samovadi", "tarpan", "be kharab jan" and "kakani shashi". The celebrated Gujarati novelist Kanaiyalal Munshi authors all these plays. In the time period of 1930 to 1970, many of the dramatists and scholars worked for the development of the new Gujarati theatre. Few of them are, Jayshanker Sundari, Rashiklal Parikh, Jayanti Dalal, Krishnalal Shreedharani, Dhansukhlal Mehta, Jyotindra Dave, Gunvantrai Acharya, Manubhai Pancholi - Darshak, Jashvant Thakar, Dhananjaya Thakar, Goverdhan Panchal, Jayanti Patel, Shivkumar Joshi, Chunilal Madia, Markand Bhatt, Pranajivan Pathak, Paramsukh Pandya, Yeshvant Pandya, Durgesh Shukla, Indulal Gandhi, Batubhai Umarwadia, Raghuvir Chowdhary, Bhaskar Vora, Chinu Modi, Labhshanker Thakar, Hasmukh Baradi and many others.
The new Gujarati Theatre has got some of the finest actors like Deena Gandhi - Pathak, Anasuya Sutaria, Nalini Mehta, Jashvant Thakar, Dhananjay Thakar, Krinalal, P. Khasrani, Kailash Pandya, Markand Bhatt, Urmila Bhatt, Pranasukh Nayak, Jyoti Vaidya and many others.