ANANT PANSHIKAR OF NATYASAMPADA SHARES WHY IT WAS IMPORTANT TO REVIVE THE SANGEETNATAK TRADITION
As the curtains opened on the 333rd show of Avagha rang ekachi zala ( The Unison of Colours) on August 15, producer Anant Panshikar, 58, was a proud man. “I struggled to bring people in to the theatre for the first 50 shows,” says Panshikar the owner of the city- based Natyasampada, company, a leading producer of Marathi plays. After the initial lull, this play caught on and travelled across the country and to the United States in 2009, clocking over 300 shows. And with this, Panshikar and his company revived the long forgotten genre of the sangeet natak, something that most commercial producers were wary of attempting. Since he took over the reins of Natyasampada, a group his uncle Prabhakar Panshikar had founded 60- yearsago, he has experimented with new genres and revived decades- old popular scripts. Even as new commercial plays were setting the cash registers ringing, Panshikar, an ardent fan of the classics, went into a revival mode in 2008 bringing back to the stage long forgotten plays. “The classics have excellent plots and beautiful lyrical language, which we hardly hear these days. That is what makes them stand out amidst a flurry of new talent and scripts,” he says. First in line was Samuel Beckett’s highly acclaimed abstract play Waiting for Godot, in which Panshikar roped in actor Tom Alter for the first time on Marathi stage in 2008. He even staged a show at Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail for inmates. Deviating from the traditional Natyasampada school of musical and historical plays, Panshikar went on to produce a folk play Viccha Majhi Poori Kara before digging out scripts by eminent playwrights such as P L Deshpande, Vasant Kanetkar and Acharya Atre.
In November 2011, he finally launched the popular 1960’ s play Varyavarchi Varaatwhere he brought together 15 leading actors. The play became an instant hit in India and the UAE. Next came a 1966 production Lekure Udand Jhali and Lagnachi Bedi that was first penned by Atre in 1936. “There’s immense variety in Marathi theatre; we gave the world the genre of sangeet natak which was very popular in the days of Bal Gandhrava in the 1940s,” says Panshikar. The industry, he says, goes through phases of highs and lows every 10 years. For now, theatre is struggling to fight competition from cinema and television. “Earlier plays were sold for the star power of the author and star cast. People no longer want to go watch a play unless it has great entertainment value,” he says. Here’s where the classics step in with their popularity spanning generations. Panshikar is committed to giving these masterpieces of Marathi literature a new lease of life.
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Left to right: A still from Natyasampada’s play Varyavarchi
Varaat Where and Anant Panshikar