The study which follows is the result of further research undertaken to explore women's presence in, and their contribution to theatre in the recorded history. History of Marathi drama and theatre in addition to a chronological documentation presents a comprehensive analysis of the various aspects and issues related to theatre.
Annual events of Natya Sammelans, or annual conferences on theatre, magazines like Rangabhoomi published by a theatre company and dedicated only to theatre, many literary periodicals and frequently held seminars, discussions, lectures provided a continuous platform to raise, discuss and debate, to the smallest details, issues connected with theatre - from aesthetics and techniques of the theatre to the political, social and moral values of the people involved in theatre.
Documentation of Women's Contribution to Theatre
Women as performers, as theatre company owners, as playwrights are practically invisible as only a brief mention of the names of a few of these women with cursory one line remarks about their work in the history is made. This stands out starkly against the backdrop of glorious accounts of the contribution made to the theatre by men, especially those who performed female characters on stage. It is interesting to note that historians of different periods have given the same information about women theatre companies while male theatre is reviewed with a revised analysis over the years.
The earliest record of women performers is of 1865. Women performed in theatre companies, which were very often owned and founded by women. Although specific information about their background is not available, one can conclude from their names that these were prostitutes or from the low caste communities perhaps earlier associated with Tamasha. These theatre companies were all women theatre companies and the female as well as male roles were enacted by women.
The earliest mention of women performers in the theatre company as per historical record is of Vibhujanchitta-chatak-swativarsha Punekar Hindu Stree Natak Mandali. The main heroine's name was Mhalsa who was young and beautiful. This company was owned by Brahmin and the cast was composed of prostitutes. The company performed the play 'Padmavati' which dealt with child marriage, widow marriage and world religious principles. In 1867 was set up the Natakankar Manoranjak Mumbai Hindu Stree Mishrit Natak Mandali where Neerabai, Taibai, Vithabai were in the cast. Manik Prabhu Prasadik Purnachandroday Sanglikar Mandali was also owned by a Brahmin, Joshi. Soni Punekarin was the main performer, who was beautiful and was a good dancer.
From 1908-1925 three companies performed regularly - Belgaonkar, Satarkar and Manohar. Belgaonkar Stree Sangeet Mandali was a popular all-women theatre company founded by a prostitute Ekamba which performed a pro-Tilak play Dandadhari. The women performing male characters looked like Ardhanari, ugly and abnormal. A prostitute named Sheshasani founded a company where male and female actors performed. Sarubhai owned Satarkar Street Sangeet Natak Mandali. Kamlabai Gokhale from 1914 onwards performed male and female roles in the company owned by her husband. In 1929, Hirabai Badodekar, a famous classical singer, along with her two sisters and one brother founded a 'mix caste' company. In some memoirs there are a couple of other local companies mentioned, one of them at Sawantwadi, where a local trader collected the local prostitutes to form a theatre company.
(Last Updated on : 21-09-2012)
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