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The regional cinema and theater have always taken a backseat in India when compared to Bollywood and Hindi theater. Another reason attributed to this is the fact that Hindi is spoken in major parts of the country.
Marathi theater has never shied from presenting bold and burning issues related to society, politics and culture in a thought-provoking fashion. The below collection has some memorable and must-watch Marathi plays, relevant to generations of people.
Ti Phulraani, loosely translated, means ‘The Flower Queen’ and is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s acclaimed play, Pygmalion.
In the original play, a professor accepts a challenge to teach a flower seller (girl) language and etiquette so that she can pass off as royalty. In this version, a Marathi language professor tries to bring about refinement in a simple flower-selling girl so that she can be easily accepted into higher society. The role of this flower seller was glorified by the late actress, Bhakti Barve-Inamdar. Her sassy monologues from this play are even memorable today and a source of pleasure. This play appeals to all age groups.
Sangeet nataks were the first formats of plays in the Marathi theater, infusing music with culture and showing the musical prowess of singers in classical music. This is probably the reason why plays in musical format seemed to be the logical evolution of the sangeet natak.
Lekure Udand Jhaali has a musical format which explores the situation of a childless couple and the psyche of adoption.
A financially well-off couple is expected to adopt within the family as a convenient solution to their problem of not having any children. This becomes the basis for the argument between the couple over which side of the family should be chosen. Lekure Udand Jhaali is a sarcastic comment meaning ‘too many kids’ and refers to the situation of the couple who is ‘spoilt’ for choice over the issue of adoption.
The high point of the play is the handling of the delicate issue of childlessness and compelling the audience to think if material wealth is necessary for good parenting. The sensitivity of this topic shown in a lighter way without making a mockery of sensitive emotions is what makes the play relevant even in today’s times.
A modern perspective towards love, especially the hardships in the love life of the physically challenged.
The play is a humorous take on three friends – one who is deaf, one who can’t speak and one who is blind – and the situations that arise when they fall in love with the same girl.
The source of wit is the ploys and plans of the three to capture the heart of this girl. In a society which regards physical handicap as a nuisance, making it highly impossible for them to find a job or a matrimonial match, let alone love, this play deals with the issues in a lighter, livelier way.
Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy was written by Pradeep Dalvi, based on the book May It Please Your Honour, written by Gopal Godse, younger brother of Nathuram Godse.
The play caused a furor because it explained the rationale of assassinating Gandhiji post his partition decision. The play was banned after 13 successful shows in Maharashtra and Kerala. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this play, it has been facing opposition from then-ruling political parties. The play also falsifies the claim that the last words of Gandhiji were ‘Hey Ram,’ which was a claim by the then-government to elevate Gandhi as a staunch Hindu supporter and subsequently ‘Father of the Nation.’
To Mi Navhech is a famous play by the playwright P.K. Atre and is based on a real-life court case of a criminal called Madhav Kazi, active from 1955-60. The criminal was accused of entrapping eligible spinsters who were well-off into matrimonial purposes – only for financial gain. The Marathi play was turned into a Tamil movie called Naan Avan Illai and loosely resembles Ladies v/s Ricky Behl, a hit Bollywood movie.
Katyar Kaljat Ghusali is a Marathi musical play (sangeet natak), originally released in 1967, that was so popular that more than 1,000 shows were staged within a short period of time. The play was written by Purushottam Darvhekar. The story depicts the clash of two gharanas (schools) of Indian classical music.
The play had beautiful pieces of classical music by the then-popular classical musicians. These pieces are immortal in the history of Hindustani classical, even today. The plot of the play becomes more intriguing when good music is fused together with a suspenseful storyline.
Kusum Manohar Lele is based on a tragic plight of a woman named Sujata, who was lured into marriage by a man called Manohar Lele, who was already married and who changed her name to Kusum. After giving birth to their child, Manohar left Sujata and took the baby, which made her lose her mind. The first wife, incidentally, is of the same name, Kusum, so the plan is foolproof. The planning was clean and in such cold blood that it defined this incident as a pre-mediated crime and atrocity.
The play explores the condition of women and their exploitation by men by questioning the issue of surrogacy. It makes the audience wonder about the situation of both the women, one whose child was taken away from her and the one whom society outcasts for not having children. There was a sequel to the play called Keshav Manohar Lele, depicting the story of the child when he grows up.
Produced and directed by Kamlakar Sarang, Sakharam Binder (Sakharam, the Binder) is a play by Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar and was first performed in 1972. It was banned in India in the ’70s because it questioned the societal norms.
Sakharam Binder, the protagonist, thinks he has the social system by the tail and can disregard the culture and societal values as long as he makes his intention known. Sakharam, a bookbinder, picks up other men’s discarded women – castoff wives who would otherwise be homeless, destitute or murdered – with impunity and takes them in as domestic servants and sex partners.
He rules his home as if he were a tyrant, yet each woman is told that she is free to leave whenever she likes. He will even give her a sari, 50 rupees and a ticket to wherever she wants to go. Everything is good and proper where he is concerned, and it lays the foundation to the no-strings-attached relationship of the modern era. Such an outlook towards marriage was considered as unsophisticated and looked down upon by the society and at a time when modernity and feminism were unknown in India. Sakharam Binder feels that he is a not unlike a common decent husband who allows his women freedom in relationships. The complications of such an ‘open’ relationship are what he does not anticipate and which the play tries to bring to the forefront. It explores the emotional psyche of men and women related to marriage, coupling and intimate relations.
Natsamrat is always the number one drama in Marathi plays. This play has ruled the Marathi industry for more than 50 years. Natsamrat has received the Sahitya Akademi Award for its brilliant story.
The main protagonist was played by Dr. Shriram Lagoo, immortalizing the role. The play shows how a seasoned actor spends the last days of his life reminiscing about his glory days as a celebrated theater performer.
This play is a psychological thriller – a professor’s wife displays sudden strange behavior, almost unable to hide her lust and desire for intimate relations. During these outbursts, she calls herself Savita Damodar Paranjpe. The play is one of the first of its kind showing the effects of multiple personality disorder.
It is said that this was based on a real incident when a man was found murdered, and the autopsy revealed his heart slit from within. This man had betrayed a girl in love, leading her to take her life. It was rumored that it was the spirit of this dead girl that took her revenge by slicing his heart.
Janata Raja (a well-aware monarch) is a Marathi mega-play based on the life of Shivaji Maharaj. The play recreates 17th-century scenes, including Shivaji’s coronation. It is enacted against a massive replica of the Shaniwarwada – the seat of the Maratha empire in Pune.
Shivaji Bhosle, or Chattrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosle (1627-1680), founded the Maratha Empire in Western India in 1674, and Janata Raja is a tribute to his life and times. The play is known for its grand opening performances with live, gigantic sets and a huge number of actors. There are realistic war scenes with real horses, and the play is mesmerizing, instantly transporting the viewer to the 17th century. The play gives a feeling of witnessing history.