(Last Updated on : 21/07/2009)
Ranchhodbhai Udayram Dave, born in 1837, was a prominent Gujarati theatre personality. He supported a group of teacher-actors in Bombay, insulted by a commercial Parsi theatre company, to form a troupe in 1878 called Mehtaji or Gujarati Natak Mandali and do his play Lalita dukhdarsbak i.e. 'Lalita's Manifold Sufferings' in 1866. A score of Dukhdarshak scripts were composed following his lead. His passionate zeal for didactic and reformist theatre resulted from the state of the folk form of Bhavai in those days, since what little he saw of it resorted to crude and loud obscenity. He said he dreamt of the sage Bharata asking him to restore glory to Gujarati theatre. So he tackled such subjects as mismatched couples, young widowhood, alcoholism, and polygamy.
His association with Mehtaji Natak Mandali raised hopes that an author like him could salvage the situation. Yet, as late as 1920, he had to write Nindya sringar nishedhak i.e. 'Deny Despicable Eroticism' in 1920, a scathing critique on the prevalent vulgarity of commercial theatre. The play contains an imaginary projection of an ideal Indian theatre that could help further the reformist cause, as he saw it, of the theatre. A pioneer in early Gujarati playwriting, Dave absorbed both Sanskrit and Shakespearean conventions. His most popular plays include Je Kumari vijay i.e. 'Je Kumari's Victory' in 1864, the long-running Harishchandra in 1875, which famously inspired Mahatma Gandhi, Nal-Damayanti i.e. 'Nala and Damayanti' in 1877, Banasur mad-mardan i.e. 'Taming of Banasur's Arrogance' in 1878, and Vanthelvirhinan kudan krityo i.e. 'A Dissipated Lover's Treachery' in 1923. Ranchhodbhai Udayram Dave was a theoretician, who wrote the book Natya prakash i.e. 'Light on Theatre' in 1890 on Sanskrit dramaturgy. Ranchhodbhai Udayram Dave died in 1923.
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