Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Part I - NATAK Budreti Special Issue: World Theatre Day, Some Observations and Reflections
Special Issue: World Theatre Day, *
March 27, 2007
Introspecting: 150 years of Gujarati Theatre
Editor: Hasmukh Baradi,
Guest Editor: S. D. Desai
Published by Budreti Theatre and Media Center,
New Ranip, GST-Chenpur Road, P.O. Digvijay Nagar,
Ahmedabad – 382470
*Published with a support grant from
Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi, India
Some Observations and Reflections
By Harish Trivedi
Reproduction, storage, copying or distribution - in any form - of Harish Trivedi’s articles on this blog and elsewhere or translation of the same without a written permission of the writer is prohibited.
This is a bilingual magazine published in English and Hindi languages. Perhaps this is a rare phenomenon in magazine publication industry in India. This particular issue has a special significance as it is devoted to what is described as Introspecting: 150 years of Gujarati Theatre.
Mr. S. D. Desai is the Guest Editor while Dr. Hasmukh Baradi the editor of the publication. In addition the quarterly lists nine scholars as Editorial Consultants and it has an Editorial Board that includes Suresh Rajda, Utpal Bhayani, Janak Dave, Janak Raval and Manvita Baradi.
The magazine is divided in eight special categories, starting with the Roots of Gujarati theatre in the folk theatre called Bhavai to the eighth section titled Noises Off with one article by the Guest Editor S. D. Desai on the subject of Aakhyan and Manbhatt Traditions as one of the forms of Gujarati theatre.
The breath and scope of the analysis and reflection that the editors have planned to tackle is impressive. It must have been a great challenge and a brave attempt has been made to cover various aspects of the Gujarati theatre during the last 150 years.
The desire of the Guest Editor and the Editor for feed back from the readers is very refreshing.
Since this writer has not seen the previous issues of NATAK Budreti some of the observations or suggestions here may seem redundant. What follows, should be accepted in the spirit in which it has been offered as this is not meant to be a personal criticism or value judgment on the members of the editorial board or the contributors.
This review of NATAK Budreti and some personal observations are offered here in the hope that they may prove useful for any such undertaking in future.
So here it goes…
The articles by Manvita Baradi’s article (Street Theatre, page135, and other articles by Utpal Bhayani, Honey Chhaya, Kshemu Divetia, Mukta Vijay Dutt, Gautam Joshi, Taru Kajaria, Vanlata Mehta, Chinu Modi, Madhu Rye (What Makes Me Write a Play, page 280), Diana Rawal, Pratap Oza, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Labhshankar Thakar, Dhirubhai Thakar, Sitanshu Yashashchandra, quite fascinating, insightful, interesting and informative. The writers have done justice to their chosen and or assigned subjects.
The magazine seems to be edited with the presumption that every reader would have sufficient background information about the people described, profiled or written about as well as the contributors to this NATAK issue.
Introductory notes about the personalities described and the writers of various articles would have been very helpful to the readers, particularly non-Gujarati readers. It is very likely that not many people out side Gujarat, no, out side Ahmedabad would be familiar with Mr. S. D. Desai, Adi Marzban, Pravin Joshi and other theatre personalities that are mentioned in this magazine. In this context the loving tribute to Shri Rasiklal Parikh by his grand daughter seems out of place in this magazine (Ishira Parikh’s article on page 250). A brief introductory note about Adi Marzban preceding Dinyar Contractor’s reminiscences about him - Adi Marzban - (page 210 in the section This I Remember) and on Rasiklal Parikh (page 250) would have been much helpful to the readers. As a matter of fact a brief introduction of Dinyar Contractor and Ishira Parikh would have been very helpful to the readers.
At a first glance it the magazine gives an impression as if the articles in English and Hindi are translations from either of the languages, but it is not so. The contents in English and Hindu sections are different. Articles about Ashraf Khan, Kanti Madia, Pragji Dosa, Prabodh Joshi that appear in Hindi are missing from the English section.
Editorial policy for NATAK Budreti:
Without sounding disrespectful or harsh, it must be stated that the editorial policy leaves much to be desired.
A) One could question the inclusion of articles that have been previously published (For example see Bhavai: Its Historical Origins by Mr. Goverdhan Panchal, page 4). The Editors could have at least included a brief note at the end of the article to inform the readers of the fact that the article by Mr. Panchal was excerpted from his original monograph and that Mr. Panchal has passed away.
B) Under the category Modern Theatre (Page 93), in an article by S. D.Desai (Intrisically Lively Theatre) punctuation marks are missing and hence reads like Madeera (1980, Greek Euripides…, Bakri (1978) Hindi Sarweshawar Dayal…SaariRaat (1987. Bengali Badal Sirkar…Galileo (1988. German Bertolt Brecht… All the plays enumerated in this essay lack proper punctuation marks.
C) Appropriateness of multiple articles by a writer in this issue of NATAK Budrei is a phenomena that is not often witnessed in many other such publications. This no reflection on the writers or their writings in this magazine. They all are very respectable and distinguished writers but this is a debatable editorial practice.
The overlapping articles on Jayashankar Sundari, Jashwant Thakar, Adi Marzban… et al could have been grouped together even though each of the articles discusses various aspects of the artists’ contribution to the Gujrati theatre.
d) Typographical errors such as Kalia instead of Kalidas (page 22) frequently appear in the magazine. Over all the English translations are uneven and when in one instance a Gujarati phrase is literary translated in to English, it has turned in to an unintentionally humorous sentence. In an article by Hiren Gandhi titled Theatre as a Means (page 146, second paragraph) what Mr. Gandhi intended to say was what he did after he passed or got through his final exams etc. This has been translated as After passing out some more time…etc. Pass out or passed out or passing out means to lose consciousness due to a sudden trauma. I do not think that’s what Hiren Gandhi intended to say.
e) Gujrati theatre activities in Bombay, particularly during the post-independence years -1950 through 1970s is brilliantly provided by an article by Honey Chhaya (in Hindi, page 43) and Utpal Bhayani (in English, page 48). There is an overlap of some subjects discussed in these two articles. In a situation such as this the editors could have considered combining these two articles in to one composite (with due credit to the two writers). That would have proved more helpful to the readers. As such the above-mentioned articles have been translated from Gujrati any way.
Introspecting: 150 years of Gujrati Theatre?
While this special issue is supposed to be celebrating or more accurately Introspecting 150 years of Gujrati Theatre, over eighty per cent of the magazine is devoted to the theatre activities during some past seventy-years. Except articles about Prabhulal Dwivedi, Ashraf Khan and Jayshankar Sundari no personalities or institutions from the Jooni Rangbhoomi (old Gujrati theatre) or any mention of a significant numbers of leading female actors from the old or the modern era has found a place in this magazine.
One of the most glaring omissions in this review of 150 years of Gujrati theatre is the glorious tradition of Nritya Natika or the dance-dramas, particularly those developed and staged by Yogendra Desai and Avinash Vyas. Pratap Oza provided narration to many of these Nritya Natikas from 1950s to 1960. For a time it seemed like there was no other activity that demanded the attention of Gujrati theatre going audiences than attending the dance dramas at the unholy hour or 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings at Bombay’s famous Birla Matushri Sabha Griha. What costumes, what music, what lyrics and what glorious production values! It makes one nostalgic and creates an intense desire to revisit those days! Movie star Asha Parekh had her debut performance in one of the Yogendra Desai/Avinash Vyas team produced dance dramas. Gujrat has not seen any thing comparable to those dance dramas since those days some five-decades ago.
Dance-dramas continue to be staged but these days it does not get the glamour value and place of importance that the straight dramas are accorded. For some reason dance-dramas are not considered to be a part of legitimate theatre activity and seem to be shoveled in to the care of community groups, social groups, school and college theatre groups…and that’s the pity!
1) Lack of citations or sourcing for the historic information presented in the articles, particularly articles by Mr. Hasmukh Baradi, Mr. S. D. Desai and Mr. Yazdi Karanjia.
The main section is called Old Theatre – 1842 – 1945 (page 12) but this seems to be an error, it should have been the year 1840 when over four hundred leading citizens of Bombay submitted a petition to the Governor Sir James Carnac requesting approval for the construction of a new theatre. The statement of Mr. Karanjia is historically accurate (see Parsi Natak Takhta Ni Tawarikh by Dhanjibhai Patel, Mumbai 1931 or article by C. C. Mehta in the Gujarati Natya Shatabdi Mahotsav Smarak Granth, Bombay 1952 or Parsi Theatre And The City- Locations, patrons, audiences by Kathryn Hansen, Sarai Reader 2002, page 40 or other books on the History of Gujarati Theatre)
It would have been nice if Mr. Karanjia’s had included more information about contributions of Adi Marzban to the Parsi Theatre in post-independent India. The Marzban clan was pioneer not only in theatre but also in journalism. Adi Marzban continued to edit the newspaper that his ancestor had started till his death.
And lastly, a brief appreciation of plays written, produced and directed by Adi Marzban would have provided valuable context to his achievements. For example his production of Gunghatpat - the Gujarati adaptation (By C. C. Mehta) of J. B. Pristley’s An Inspector Calls. That play had a memorable cast that included the late Champshibhai Nagada, Chandrika Shah, Lalu Shah, and in the memorable role of the Inspector was Amir Merchant. Since that production in late 1950s there have been numerous Gujarati versions of An Inspector Calls but in this writer’s opinion none could hold candle to that production.
2) Giant of Indian theatre in general and the Gujarati theatre in particualr Mr. Damubhai Jhaveri and the founding of the India National Theatre deserved a place in this sweeping introspection.
In the interest of accuracy it should be noted that the Indian National Theatre did not produce Narbanka, Allabeli and Mrichhakatika (Hasmukh Baradi, The Newness of New Theatre, page 30 creates such an impression). Rangbhoomi of Bombay had produced those plays. Pratap Oza indeed played memorable roles in those plays. Narbanka is based on Ibsen’s Enemy of the People and Allabeli dealt with the 1857 Revolution and involvement of Mulu Manek - perhaps one of the rare plays in Gujarati that has dealt with this theme.
3) Missing from the NATAK Budreti is any detailed information (Honey Chhaya’s article – page 43 - in Hindi not withstanding) about the above-mentioned theatre group Rangbhoomi and Rangboomi Theatre Institute that was active from 1950s thru late 1960s.
4) Rangmanch, a vital theatre group from Ghatkopar in Bombay. Sadly except a superficial mention of this group in an article by Honey Chhaya (Page 43) its substantial contribution of is missing from this introspecting. Among its many patrons and founders were the late Gunvantrai Acharya and Prof. Vishnukumar Vyas. The moving spirit of this organization for many a years was Ranjeet Atha. These institutions and individuals are more than worthy of inclusion in any review of the past 150-years of the Gujarati Theatre.
5) Also missing from this NATAK Budreti issue is any reference to the major research on folk theatre traditions that was undertaken by the Indian National Theatre with a support grant from the Ford Foundation. Sure there is a loving tribute to Mansukh Joshi by Utpal Bhayani that appears in an article in Hindi on page239. But there is much more to Mansukh Joshi than a page full of summary of only one aspect of his life.
The late Mansukh Joshi of the INT has collected rare manuscripts and hundreds of photographs and some hundreds of hours of audiotapes on the folk theatre of Gujarat and Maharashtra. What is the status of that work? What is going to happen to those years of research and archiving of valuable material on Bhavai, Tamasha and other folk forms such as Dairo etc.?
Mansukh Joshi deserved to be remembered for his production of Jesal Toral for the Indian National Theatre. He directed that production with Pratap Oza and Urmila Bhat as lead artists. This was one of the most successful and most lavish stage productions that the Gujrati stage has ever seen. It was presented on two revolving stages at the open-air theatre Rang Bhavan near Dhobi Talav in Mumbai.
Mansukh Joshi’s and the Gujrati theatre’s magnum opus Jesal Toral has to be considered one of the landmark productions on Gujarati stage and needs to be included in any history of Gujarati theatre. Mary Cogyne of the World Theatre Institute, U.S.A was in Mumbai when Jesal Toral was playing at Rang Bhavan. This production probably led to Mansukh Joshi’s trip abroad under the auspices of the World Theatre Institute.
6) Similarly absent from this magazine is any reference to the monumental work done by Mr. Dhirendra Somani on the subject of Jooni Rangbhoomi - the old Gujarati theatre groups - from 1843 through 2003 is troublesome too. His book titled Gujrati Rangbhoomi – Riddhi ane Siddhi (Gujarati theatre – its value or worth and achievements). It is reported that Mr. Somani spent over six-decades collecting and researching on this project and in the process he has collected information about one thousand actors, over 300 actresses, nearly 300 musicians, some 250 dramatists, collected rare photographs and manuscripts. Again Mr. Dhirendra Somani’s work may have been covered in previous issues.
7) Dr. Jayanti Patel, Upendra Trivedi and many other talented actors of Gujarti theatre from Mumbai, and contributions of great comic talent of Gujarati stage such as late Jayant Vyas, (late) Kishore Bhatt and (late) Amrut Patel also deserved some coverage in this introspection.
A reference note or a tribute to many actors and actresses from the bygone era of the Jooni Rangbhoomi (Old Gujrati Theatre) is lamentable. Take a look at the partial roster of actor and actresses of bygone and modern era of the Gujrati theatre that included such stalwarts as - Master Mohan (Mohanlal Sakalchand Nayak) who made a name for himself in Mahabharat with his singing voice and note worthy acting skills. He had established Shakespeare Natak Mandli with Vallabh Keshav Nayak and Gauhar, Vallabh Keshav Nayak (Valo), Mulchand Mama (Amrit Keshav Nayak’s maternal uncle), Mohan Lala, Master Gordhan, Master Vasant, Chimanlal Marwadi, Himmat Ram Meer, Kasambhai Meer and Lalubhai Meer, Vadilal Shivram Nayak, Master Mohan Marwadi, Rani Premlata; and leading female stars of the Navi Rangbhoomi (modern Gujrati stage) such as Urmila Bhat, Varsha Adalja (formerly Varsha Acharya) and winner of numerous acting awards for her acting skills, Leela Jariwala (Mrs. Pratap Oza), Chandrika Shah, Vanlata Mehta, Veena Prabhu and skilled acting craftsmen like Pratap Popat, Krishnakant Vasavda, Surendra Shah, Chandrakant Thakkar – all acclaimed actors and actresses in their own rights deserved a place of their own or at least a mention in this issue that celebrates 150 years of Gujrati theatre. By this omission the NATAK Budreti issue under review seems to have shortchanged its readers.
Dr. Jayanti Patel, in my mind is worthy of a PhD dessertation considering his valuable contribution to the Gujrati theatre in India and theatre in the United States. His 25-years’ theatre activities in India and some three-decades of theatre activity in the United States deserves a look by theatre enthusiasts and future generations of Gujarati theatre rasikas. He contribution too is missing from this magazine.
If not for any thing else, Jayanti Patel needs to be recognized for his performances in plays such as Neta Abhineta – a modern Gujarati play written in a Bhavai form and presented in Bombay in late 1950 is if produced now would still be relevant. What a pleasure it was for this writer to have seen him and Deena Gandhi (later Pathak). A more biting political satire has yet to appear on Gujarati stage. India’s then ambassador to the United States was one of the distinguished guests at the premier performance of that play and I remember seeing him rush to the stage as soon as the final curtain came down to congratulate Jayanti Patel and Deena Gandhi. This probably resulted in an invitation for Jayanti Patel for a tour of theatres in the United States under the auspicious of the United States Information Services.
Jayanti Patel’s memorable performances in plays like Mastram –Gujarati version of Marcy Chase’s Harvey. Chandravadan Bhatt directed the play. Jayanti Patel got award at the state drama competition for his acting in this play. Another memorable performance was in Sapana Sathi – a marvelous Gujarati version of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck’s short novel Of Mice and Men. The novel published in 1937, tells the tragic story of two displaced migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression. The Gujarati stage adaptation was first done by Jayanti Patel who then requested Pannalal Patel to transform the language in to vocabulary and slang of north Gujarat farmer. Jayanti Patel also won prize for acting in that play at the Maharashtra State drama competetion.
During 1950s till about late 1960s Jayanti Patel presented modern Bhavai (wih Veena Prabhu playing Rangli) on All India Radio’s Bombay station. For those readers of younger generation, Veena Prabhu is daughter of the theatre scholar and historian late Dr. D. G. Vyas. She later acted in many productions of Rangbhoomi theatre group in Bombay. She also wrote a column for Mumbai Samachar.
The memorable acting of late Chandravadan Bhatt (page 46) – Bhatsaheb as he was known to many - in Bahut Natchyo Gopal is described as a Gujarati version of the Marathi play which is true but the Marathi play in turn was based on John Osborn’s The Entertainer (wherein the late Sir Laurence Olivier created the role of Archie Rice for stage and also on screen). While appreciating Mr. Bhatt’s performance in Bahut Nachyo Gopal one should also remember is performance in Gunegar – a Gujarati adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution by Babubhai Bhukhanwala. In view of this spectator this was the most spellbinding courtroom drama on Gujarati stage till that date (1957-‘58).
8) One of the major reasons or causes of the unpopularity of Bhavai and one of the major causes of its demise was the introduction of obscenities and foul language in the Bhavai. This is one of the glaring omissions in Mr. Hasmukh Baradi’s article An Entertainment Industry (Hasmukh Baradi, Page 20)
9) Under the category Modern Theatre (Page 66), Mr. S. D. Desai has rightfully described Gandhi Viruddha Gandhi (Page 70) as the most outstanding play of the last quarter century.
It would have been more than appropriate if Mr. Desai had also included the name of the writer of the play. The play was first adapted in Marathi from a Gujrati novel Prakash No Padchhayo by Dinkar Joshi. The Marathi translation of that novel in turn begot Chandrakant Kulkarni written Gandhi Viruddha Gandhi. That begot Hindi and English productions that Feroz Khan directed and finally that led to the movie (supposed to be based on the above mentioned plays) by Feroz Khan titled Gandhi: My Father. Absent from all that fame and fortune or notoriety is our poor Gujrati novelist Dinkar Joshi!
The U.S. film industry’s reputed magazine Variety (Oct. 31, 2004, web edition) has claimed that A Bollywood film director Joy Augustine claims he controls film rights to the book -- including the book's name.
This writer’s efforts to contact Dinkar Joshi were not successful. No one knows where Dinkar Joshi stands in this saga of translation and transplantation and different incarnations all based on his novel Praksh No Padchayo! And no one among the Gujrati literati or established literary institutions, academies or theatre institutes seems to care about this episode – this deprivation of rightful credit for the Gujrati writer. Oh the apathy!
11) In yet another article in the same section and by the same writer – Developments in Recent Years (Page 70) under the sub-heading The Biographicals mentions only two plays, Narmad : Maari Hakikat and Rajendra Bhagat’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
After Narmad – Maari Hakikat (produced by the India Foundation in Dayton, Ohio U.S.A. and written and directed by this writer – Harish Trivedi) some memorable one-character and biographical plays have been staged in Gujarati and Hindi on the Mumbai, national and international stage. Mention must be made of Shekhar Sen’s musical one-character plays Kabeer, Tulsidas and Vivekanand. Other one-character and/or biographical plays that followed Narmad – Maari Hakikat include a play based on the diary of Mahadev Desai - Mahadevbhai Ni Diary, Akho and under poet and professor Vinodbhai Joshi’s supervision a play based on Kavi Kant’s autobiography that was staged in early 2006.
In addition to the memorable work done by Goverdhan Panchal, Vijay Kapadia and Naran Mistry, a new team by the name of Chhel Vaida and Paresh Daru emerged in early 1960s. They started their theatrical career with Rangbhoomi in Mumbai. Their first major work was the set of Parneeta that won them recognition and prize for set-design in the Maharshtra State Drama Competition. Honey Chhaya had directed that play with an all-student cast from the Rangbhoomi Theatre Institute. Now Chhel-Paresh has become a major team in Mumbai for the set designs for stage, films and television. Absence of any article about Chhel- Paresh (Chhel Vaida and Paresh Daru) is inexcusable.
a) Jagannath Shankarsheth was not a Gujarati businessman as Mr. Baradi states in his article An Entertainment Industry (page 21). On the same page there is a reference to Elphantine Natak Mandali that seems to be a typographical error and instead it should have been Elphinston and Mr. Baradi probably meant to refer to the Elphinston Dramatic Club.
b) Honey Chhaya when writing about Chandavadan Bhatt in his article in Hindi titled Bahut Nachyo Gopal (page 218) has referred to the play Mastram. Since Chandravadan Bhatt also acted and directed plays it must be clarified that Chandravadan Bhatt had only directed the play Mastram. It was adapted in Gujarati by Jayanti Patel from the well-known American play Harvey by Mary Chase (which was later made in to a movie with James Stuart who got Academy Award for his role in that movie). For his acting in Mastram Jayanti Patel was awarded first prize for acting at the Maharashtra State Drama Competition.
c) In an article One-act Plays – Origin and Growth Hasmukh Baradi states that Anil Mehta was a product of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s inter-collegiate competitions (page 84). That is an error or smriti dosh. Anil Mehta had not appeared in any inter- collegiate competitions even though he was a capable actor and had performed in several one-act plays.
d) 1853 is stated to be the year in which Master Ashraf Khan was born (page 215). This is erroneous. If this were true, Master Asraf Khan would have been 109 at the time of his death in 1962. Master Ashraf Khan was born in 1893.
Gujrati Theatre, Songs and Music:
Narendra Shrimali’s very brief article in Hindi (Rangabhoomi Ke Geetonka Dhwani Mudran, page 270) refers to early recordings of songs from Gujarati/Parsi plays. He has rightfully referred to Sorabjee Dhondi’s recordings. What is unstated is the fact that Sorabjee had recorded some of the most memorable songs of the Parsi Gujarati plays including Bammanji Kabraji’s Gamre Nee Gori and many of the popular plays of that time.
Sorab Rustamji Dhondi has cut over 100 songs on 78-rpm discs and on number of labels. He has sung songs, skits, birds and animals sound imitations. His most famous record was ‘Dhuveki Gaadi’ and ‘Rang Bhangka Lota’. This record issued on ‘The Twin’ label describes the train with coal engine and was the best seller for many years. Several music lovers have listened to this record between 1930-50.
Similarly over two hundred songs were recorded by Gauhar Jan who was romantically linked with Amrit Keshav Nayak. Her recording includes some of the thumaries written and composed by Amrit Keshav Nayak including Aan baan jiyamen lagi, which is supposed to be written by Amrit Keshav Nayak.
Alfred Theater company artists made several recordings with the ‘Ramagraph’ company of Bombay and they were the best sellers for several years.
Beka Records, Sun Disc, Gramophone Company, Ramagraph, James Opera cut over 300 songs of renowned artists: Master Mohan, Master Bhagoo, Dayashankar Vasanji, Sorabji Katrak, Phiroz Shah Misrty and many others recorded songs with these companies.
Around 1905, many record companies approached the Parsi theatre companies and cut discs of songs and dialogues. Parsi theater music consists of light music with songs using English words and verses.
Over fifty songs of Ashraf Khan’s from his early recordings are available on 78 rpm records, earliest being three songs from ‘Chitra Bakavali’, (C.1904), a Gujrati drama staged when he was with Parsi theater Company. He is believed to be the originator of the Gujrati gazal gayaki recorded on gramophone discs. His Bhairvi record ‘Chali ja Mori’ (HMV N 4123) was most popular. His Jogia bhajan is popular even today and the words are- "Utha jaga musafir bhor bhai, aab rain kahan jo sovat hain and Jo sovat hain woh khovat hai, jo jagat hain woh pavat hain " (Suresh Chandvankar, the Record News ISSN 0971-7942, Volume - Annual: TRN 2006).
Other miscellaneous recordings of Garbas, bhajans, comedy routines (for example the famous routine - Tara bhajiya Man Bhadko Mele ne Gadi upadi, Dakor Gam man bhajan dhun thai thai thai thai – on the famous Twin Records lable) from the bygone era, are available with collectors of old gramophone records. The General Secretary of the Gramophone Record Collectors’ Society of India Mr. Suresh Chandvankar has access to some of these rare records. Universities in Gujarat, the Department of Culture and Education, some research oriented theatre institute or some philanthropic organization needs to invest some funds and get these rare recordings of Gujarati theatre music converted in to a digital form and preserve these heritage for future generations of theatre lovers.
A footnote for the history of theatre music: The harmonium was introduced in the Gujarati theatre during the early 20th century. Till that time Sarangi and Tabla were the main musical instruments used in musical concerts and theatrical events. Gauhar Jan learned to play harmonium after she arrived in Mumbai from Calcutta. (Source: The great actor, musician and writer Govindrav Tembe’s reminisces Maza Sangeet Vyasang. Govindrav had composed music for over a dozen films during the 1930s including some half a dozen films that were produced and directed by V. Shantaram, he had also acted in Debaki Bose’s movie Seeta).
In the section Books on Gujrati Theatre (A selection) - page 277 - is by its very title a very subjective selection of books on Gujrati theatre. Not surprisingly it lists four books by Hasmukh Baradi and three books by S. D. Desai (Editor and the Guest Editor of NATAK Budreti respectively). One wishes the list had included the work on the history of the Gujrati Theatre by Prof. Madhukar Randeria and Jayantilal Trivedi. Dhirendra Somani’s book on the old Gujrati theatre that has been published by the Gujrati Sarvakosh publications also deserved inclusion in this brief list.
Last but not the least mention must be made of C.C. Mehta’s pioneering Bibliography of Stageable Plays in India that was published with the support of UNESCO. Yes the collection does include a list of stageable plays from Gujarati language. This is the first ever book that includes plays written in practically most of the languages of India Granted that the special issue of NATAK Budreti is devoted to introspecting about the Gujarati Theatre, but C. C. was a modern maverick of Gujarati theatre, he was also a member of Sangeet Natak Academy, a Padma Shree honoree and much more…. How can we forget or ignore his stupendous work on Indian theatre?
On the production side, a more imaginative layout and graphic design would have made the magazine more attractive. The reproduction of photographs in the issue under review is at times messy and reproduction uneven. There is no consistency in the way in which the photos are identified. Some times those appearing in the photos are identified and some times the identification is missing. There is no indication as to where the photographs came from or were obtained by the editors. Similarly the name of the group that produced the plays depicted in various photos is also missing. The photograph of Chandravadan Bhatt from the play Gunegar appears without any reference to the play. It seems to be used just because Chandravadan Bhatt appears in that photo. A portrait of Chandravadan Bhatt would have been more appropriate or some details about the play Gunegar would have justified the reproduction.
Ideally each photo should have carried the name of the photographer, the source of the photo (as to who supplied the photo) and the name of the production and people appearing in the photos. In the NATAK issue under review some photographs have no titles at all. The date the photograph was taken is also important when photographs of historic personalities are involved. This is a matter of editing ‘style’. There seem to be no in-house editorial ‘style’ - guidelines for this magazine. Unfortunately this is not the fault of this magazine only; barring a few exceptions (few popular magazines and newspapers) very little attention is paid in Gujarat to the layout and graphic design of publications and the editorial style is absolutely absence from all the publications.
Photographs and negatives of Gujarati plays, particularly those staged in Mumbai, are with one of the great theatre photographers Raj Datt. He had shot photos of practically all the theatre events in Mumbai – Parsi, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, Mela Tamasha and other stage events. Again his valuable collection of photograph- negatives of those photos should be collected by some theatre or research institute, digitized and preserved for posterity.
Gujarati Theatre Abroad:
In Love’s Lament (page 261) Preeti Sengupta has poured her heart out with her perceptions on Gujarati theatre activities in Canada and United States and her article needs to be considered in that context only. These are her perceptions only. Theatre activity in the United States is nominal but strong. The India Foundation in Dayton, Ohio, the Gujarati group in Houston, the South Asian Theatre Festival, the theatre groups on the west coast of the U.S. have been very active and continue to present good theatre under constraints. Madhu Rye in New York and New Jersey areas, Mohan Dali and Chandrakant Shah in Boston, Dilip Chitre in Baltimore and Philadelphia have presented some memorable Gujrati, Marathi and Hindi plays. In Dayton, Ohio one amateur group has presented some of the most memorable Hindi plays with talented group of young actors that included Alok Khare and Dr. Raghav Gowda, Shankar, Rashmi, Shilpa Kamdar, Milind Ratnaparki and others. The India Foundation has given to Gujarati theatre audiences in London, Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando and Dayton many performances of Narmad – Maari Hakikat and Narmad – My Life (the English language version of the original Gujarati play).
A foot note to one-character plays in Gujrati:
1) One could say that Jayanti Patel introudiced Gujarati audiences to the one-character plays with his memorable but badly received Bhadram Bhadra at the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad convention in Mumbai. It was held during the early 60s. The exact year escapes me at this time. There after Jayanti Patel did a number of one-man shows. His one-character plays and all were very well received by the audiences in Mumbai.
2) Thereafter Prof. Madhukar Randeria mounted his autobiographical one-character play Tun Alya Kon? This play was probably inspired by then successful one-character and autobiographical play by P. L. Deshpande. Sad to say that Prof. Randeria’s play was still born – it died at the very first performance.
Risking to be accused of making a sefl serving comment (since this writer’s article on Amrit Keshav Nayak appears in this issue, page 213) Amrit was the first actor from Gujarat who was recognized as one of the leading actor/director and writer of Hindustani and Gujarati stage from the last decade of 19th century till the early part of the 20th century. Amrit introduced Shakespeare to Indian audiences through his performances in the Hindustani plays all over India. Since his death a century ago no one from Gujarat has captured the imagination, hearts and minds of theatre-going public as much as Amrit Keshav Nayak. NATAK Budreti failed in paying an appropriate tribute in a more fitting way to this gifted and worthy son of Gujarat. The editors could have considered dedicating the issue to Amrit Keshav Nayak since 2007 happened to be the centennial year of his death. Sadly indeed a lost opportunity!
Finally a word or two needs to be written about theatre criticism or writings about Gujarati theatre in Gujarati and English publications during the post-independent India. Shantibhai Dani wrote about theatre for Janmabhoomi, , Shakunt Raval who wrote for Janshakti, K. K. Lala and Barjor Pawri covered Gujarati theatre for Mumbai Samachar. The early coverage in the Gujarati dailies consisted mainly of press-release-type announcements. From time to time Venibhai Purohit also reviewed Gujarati plays for Janmabhoomi. (The newspapers mentioned above are all prominent Gujarati language dailies published from Mumbai).
When some one decideds to write at length about Gujarati theatre criticism for the English language dailies mention must be made of Madhukar Jhaveri of the Times of India in Bombay. He reviewed Gujarati plays for about decade and a half, starting from around mid-50s and continued till early 70s. He was a much feared critic of Gujarati plays. One needs to read his reviews for the power and brevity of his language and his perceptive analysis of plays. Nothing or no one was sacred as far as his reviwing was concerned. The collection of his reviews need to be published in an anthology form by some enterprising publisher or a research institute. Today’s young writers and wannabe writers on Gujarti theatre need to read and learn from those reviews and see how much could be covered in a brief - a six to eight inch column-review by Madhukar Jhaveri and that too under the deadline pressures of a daily newspaper. His reviews geneally appeared within a day or two of the staging of the play.
Mr. Madhu Rye (Thaker) and Sitanshu Yashashchandra have expressed their critical views on Gujrati theatre in various publications and those deserve to be published in a form of an anthology. Such an anthology would prove to be a powerful tool for study and research on Gujrati theatre.
We are fortunate to have Utpal Bhayani’s weekly columns in Janmabhoomi-Pravasi - a Gujrati newspaper published from Mumbai - that we have more or less a chronological history of theatre activities, particularly the goings on in the Gujrati theatre world for the last thee decades. A tip of my proverbial hat to Utpal Bhayani!
After going through this smorgasbord of writings on the Gujrati theatre or introspecting as the editors have called it, the reader is left hungry for desserts in the form of a fala shruti or a word about the future of the Gujrati theatre or some discussion on the problems and issues that confront the Gujrati theatre. After a heavy dose of introspection the thing that is missing most is reflection. Editors blew that opportunity too!
Editor Hasmukh Baradi writes –
We are impressed by your passionate involvement in theatre and appreciate devoting time on preparing a long, studied response to the special issue of â€˜Natakâ€™.
We accept there are a few slips. We are also aware that the articles do not give an overview of ALL that has happened in the past and do not include all possible names. The two preambles have taken note of the limitations. Many of your observations are prompted by vastly different perceptions and perspective. As for possible discrepancies, we would like to check and, if necessary, would not hesitate to remove them. Digressions and confusion apart, there are hasty assumptions and conclusions in your observations, which we can discuss when we hopefully meet. We are glad our endeavour received your attention. We value your observations and look forward to occasional contributions from you to the Quarterly.
Harish Trivedi’s response -
Thanks for your note about my observations on NATAK Budreti issue that celebrated 150 years of the Gujrati theatre. I very much appreciate you investing your time to go through my long review. This proves if such a proof was needed that you are open for a dialogue and discussion on the subject. I am sure your willingness for an open discussion would prove productive and make the future issues of NATAK Budreti more enjoyable to read and more authoritative as a research tool for the future students and scholars studying Gujrati theatre.
I beg to differ about your assessment that I have made some hasty assumptions and conclusions. I received the magazine under review some time in early July of 2007 and I forwarded my observations in late January of this year! I have spent a major part of six months - off and on reading, re-reading and writing about NATAK Budreti.
You further state that we are also aware that the articles do not give an overview of ALL that has happened in the past and do not include all possible name. Missing from your introspection is not just the names – what is missing from your introspecting are the personalities associated with those names - people who deserve to be and are worthy of inclusion in any history of theatre in Gujarat. How can one call this special issue Introspecting: 150 years of Gujarati Theatre and at the same time say that all that should be included in this historic survey has not been included or contributions of some major theatre personalities has been ignored?
Errors of fact and omissions that I have enumerated in my observations has nothing to do with my or any one else’s perceptions or perspectives.
Let me restate few thoughts about the questions you have raised in your email message:
1) One of the major reasons for the downfall and unpopularity of Bhavai was the frequent use of obscenity in the performances. Mahipatram Rupram Nilakanth’s collection of Bhavai Veshas is a sanitized or censored version of the original Veshas. Mahipatram had similarly sanitized Narmad's prose from his Narma Gadya when it was re-edited and reprinted for the education board where Mahipatram was an official.
I have had access to an old hand written copies of some ten or so Bhavai Veshas that were full of obscenities (that even now would cause a shudder when read aloud... I had translated five of these Veshas in to English for the Michigan State University (U.S.A.) where I was a doctoral student.
2) Nana Shankarshett or Sheth (Jaggannath Shankarshett) was a Maharashtrian businessman and a great philanthropist and one of the makers of Bombay in the 19th century. He was also a great patron of Narmad. He was not a Gujrati businessman as you have asserted. This is plain and simple error of fact in your article.
3) Anil Mehta did not emerge from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's Inter-collegiate competition as it has been asserted in the NATAK Budreti under discussion.
(There is no need to investigate the veracity of my statements since I am too familiar with the history of the Shankershett clan. In the early 1960s I had the privilege of reviewing a biography of Nana Shankershett and later wrote an article for the Times of India when Shankershett’s mansion was demolished to make room for an ownership flat at that location. Anil Mehta was a friend and co-student at the Ruia College when Varsha Acharya (Adalja), Navin Parekh, Meghnad Desai and others were participating in the Inter Collegiate One-Act drama competitions. Anil Mehta did not participate in any of the theatre activity in the college or the competition during those years. He did act in many a successful plays of that era when such plays were staged for the benefit of community organizations such as Navratri Mandal or a Gujrati Samaj - I know this, because I had acted in many of those productions. Anil Mehta and I lived in the same Bombay suburb and went to the same high school and college. My reference to Arvind Trivedi's debut performance in Retina Ratan speaks for itself and I stand by it.
Anil Mehta did take a course in Play-writing at the Rangbhoomi Institute of Dramatic Arts. I have a photograph of the poster of the Rangbhoomi Institute that has Anil Mehta's name as one of the graduates, specializing in Play-writing. Anil Mehta’s contribution to the Gujrati theatre is translations of Marathi plays from early 1970s till the time of his death at a young age).
4) You would agree that proofing errors in the magazine couldn’t be attributed on perception or perspective either.
5) Absence of attribution and sourcing in a research-oriented magazine too cannot be attributed to perspective or perception,
6) Erroneous translation, publication of previously published articles or articles published without the original writer's permission - all are evident in the magazine. There could be no question of my perception on such matters either.
7) The metaphor of music in the title of an article about why one writes a play though cute and eye-catching is technically or in literal sense wrong. What a playwright does could be compared - if one wants to use a metaphor of music - with composing a symphony or writing a concerto... A playwright creates a character and once that task is completed to the playwrights' satisfaction, the flesh and blood is provided by a perceptive director with the help of an actor. It is the director and the actor who interprets and brings life to the characters created by the playwright. So the Director and not the playwright do the orchestration. Once the play is written it is out of the playwrights' hands and he/she does not have any control over the interpretation of the playwrights’ words and language.
8) Creative layout and design is the responsibility of a graphic designer and editorial vision and oversight. A creative lay out, imaginative art work (including use of photos) and other graphic tricks of the trade enhances the readability of the publication - this too is not a matter of perception or perspective,
9) Use of a major portion of available space for the copy (printed matter) by a few selected writers, particularly the Editor and Guest Editor is indeed troubling if not out right wrong...
10) A list of reference books on Gujrati theatre - no matter how subjective - should include the most prominent and seminal works on Gujrati theatre...and listing books by the Editor or the Guest Editor no matter how important creates a perception of editorial nepotism.
All of the above would show to any objective reader that my observations and review is not based on my unique perspective or perception.
In my humble opinion no amount of rationalization or caveats could justify the errors of fact and omission that I have brought to your attention. Any introspection without reflection, I am afraid, is likely to become an idle exercise. It would be like a body with flesh and blood devoid of a soul!
So let’s continue the dialogue …
With best regards and warm wishes, yours very sincerely,
*Readers please stay tuned….
I have just received email messages from Shri Narendra Shrimali from Vadodara. He is an avid collector of old gramophone records and a member of the Society of Indian Record Collectors. I have not met him but I know about him. I have commented about his article on Gujarati Theatre and Music in my observations about the NATAK Budreti special issue...
I hope you carry some sort of correction about the factual errors in the above-mentioned issue in the next issue of NATAK Budreti.
What is the annual subscription of NATAK Budreti? Do let me know. Many thanks.
With warm wishes -
P.S. I am forwarding following excerpts from Narendra Shrimali's four email messages that I have received. This is just for your information.
Hope this letter finds you in best of health and
First of all thank you very much for your elaborated
and in depth review of "NATAK Budreti Special Issue:
World Theatre Day, March 27 2007".
I also thank you for sending me a copy of your this
I was delighted to read studious comments on my
article in above mentioned special issue of Natak.
In fact that article was not written by me. It was
complied and adapted from my book "MUSIC OF THEATRE
AND HINDI CINEMA (1900-1950) - A discographical Study
with particular reference to the theatre of Western
I was delighted to find reference of some records in
your review article.
It was a moment of joy to read your studious article
which inspired me to write this. I hope you will keep
continued this dialogue.
....In fact the article of Natak BUDRETI was not written
by me. It was complied and adapted from my book
without asking me. ....
However on reading article I certainly had a feeling
that alot still could have been included....
I have learned that Madhu Rye’s article too has been published without his knowledge or permission. (Harish Trivedi)
In the April-June 2008 issue of Natak Budreti (Quarterly) the Guest Editor and Editor has responded to my observations and reflections on the Special Issue under discussion.
(Note: I have underlined the words or sentences below where they have appeared in bold face in the original. Rest of what follows is an exact copy of the original that appears on page 38 and 39 of the above issue. Here it is in blue color to make it easy for the readers to comprehend and separate the same from this writer’s response).
Here is the response from the Guest Editor Dr. S. D. Desai and Editor Shri Hasmukh(bhai) Baradi.
In their own words:
Response to Harish Trivedi (US) from Guest Editor/Editor
We have received 20 pages (around 6,000 words) of ‘Observations and Reflections’ on our Special Issue from Shri Harish Trivedi (US). Their length does not permit us to reproduce them here. A short response was sent to him. However, since he keeps writing to us with uncommon assertions we briefly respond to him below:
1 (a) Passing out, in the sense it is used in Hiren Gandhi’s article, is acceptable in British/American English.
(b) There is uniform method in the notes on stage productions in Intrinsically Lively Theatre. ‘Madeera (1980. Greek Euripides, Adapt C. C. Mehta, Dir. Bharat Dave)’ means the play originally written in Greek by Euripides, was adapted by C. C. Mehta and directred by Bharat Dave.
( c ) We accept there are a couple of ‘typographical’/’proofting’ errors like Kalia instead of Kalidas.
(d) The title of an article in Hindi suggests the playwright ‘orchestrates action’. That’s not unacceptable. It means he ‘carefully organizes’ action.
(e) Propriety prevent us from claiming that S. D. Desai is known outside Ahmedabad/Gujarat, but aren’t Adi Marzban and Pravin Joshi?
2. (a) We are aware of ‘omissions’ of personalities like Damu Jhaveri, Upendra Trivedi, Jayanti Patel as also forms like Nritya Natika besides a few other aspects Mr. Trivedi has not noticed. The two preambles reflect this awareness.
(b) There is no separate article on ‘one character plays’, but aren’t Shekhar Suman’s Kabir and other plays in Hindi?
(c) The suggestion regarding what Mr. Trivedi calls ‘citations or sourcing’ is welcome, but we would like to point out that leading journals do not necessarily carry them and they aren’t any the less dependable.
(d) A writer makes his choice to omit details he considers less important in a context within the space available. A reader can draw his conclusions but need not question the choice.
(e) Books on Gujarati Theatre, needless to say, includes books in English and Hindi only. It is not an authour’s fault if he happens to have published more than one book in either or both of the two languages!
3. There seem tobe a few factual errors concerning persons and dates (Anil Mehta, Upendra Trivedi, Ashraf Khan…) They have been referred to writers concerned.
4. Preety Sengupta has not criticized Gujarati theatre activity in Canada and the US. She is critical of ‘The same stupid, slapstick plays making their way abroad’.
5. With reference to Sorabjee Dhondi’s recordings in Narendra Shrimali’s article in Hindi, Mr. Trivedi adds what ‘is unstated’ and voes on to mention other recordings. A lot more can be added. Our objective, as in other areas, here was tiging a glimpse of the work done.
6. The graphic design, we believe, is good enough. The pictures have not come out very clearly. We wold nothave afforded a better alternative.
7. There are comments on our editorial policy/practice concerning ‘multiple articles’ by a writer, articles previously published, grouping of the articles, (‘sadly’) failing to dedicate the issue to Amrit Keshav Nayak, etc. We need not be defensive of our policy/practice.
8. Many of the (highly judgemental) observations ae prompted by vastly different perceptions and perspective. There are hasty assumptions, digressions and conclusions. In a response purported to be studied and research-based, it is interesting to find comments like ‘Not surprisingly (the section lists four books by HB and three books by SDD); ‘ By this omission … the issue seems to have shortchanged its readers’; and ‘… deserved a place in ‘this sweeping introspection’. The Indian tradition associates humility with learnedness.
9. The Special Issue by any standard a modest effort. Neither the editors nor the contributors have an illusion of being infallible and of having the Issue encyclopedic.
- Guest Editor, Editor
(There is no need to continue the so-called ‘dialogue’ now. We have moved on.
They are exercises in self-exculpation. Pretending to explain, their actual purpose is to deflect responsibility. I call this a masterpiece of obfuscation.
The esteemed Editors pose only those questions that advances their thesis. This careful fusion of convenient and inconvenient facts enables the Editors to craft an ‘acceptable’ version of their flawed editorial policies.
None of their arguments stands up to even casual scrutiny. Unwittingly, they show us an astonishing degree of hubris or naivet …
About Harish Trivedi:
Harish Trivedi, - a naturlazed U.S. Citizen - immigrated to the United States in mid 1960s to work on his doctorate in Theatre and Communication with minors in Public Broadcasting, Television and Films. Harish holds master’s degree in Economics and Political Science. He has academic qualifications, degrees and diplomas in Law, Library Science, Management, Information Science and Technology.
Harish has written, directed and acted in many Gujarati, Hindi and English plays. His translations of five Bhavai veshas have been published by Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. The Five Indian Folk Plays - Bhavai Veshas have been staged and aired on television in the United States.
Harish started his careere in journalism and worked at Janmbabhoomi publications and later at the Times of India in Bombay prior to his departure to the United States.
In Dayton, Ohio, for over twenty-years Harish worked first at the Journal Herald and later at the Dayton Daily News.
He has written about theatre, films and humor articles for Sandesh and other Gujrati publications. His most controversial effort was a parody of the much reveared and iconic magazine KUMAR in the annual publication AAVAZ that was Edited by Jayanti Patel. The parody was called KUMBHAR (meaning - a potter). His articles and book reviews have appeared in the Times of India and Dayton Daily News. His writings in Gujrati have also appeared in magazines and newspapers in India and in the United States.
While in India Harish wrote plays that were produced by Rangbhoomi in Bombay. Two of the most memorable, note worthy and successful plays were Kanchan Bhayo Katheer (with Prof. Vishnukumar Vyas, Upendra Trivedi, Jayanti Patel and Tarla Mehta and directed by Prof. Vyas) and Darpan(with Krishnakant Vasavda, Surendra Shah, Veena Prabhu and Leelaben Jariwala. It was directed by Honey Chhaya) –both the plays were free adaptations from an Amercan and a British play respectively.
Harish Trivedi’s throughly revised and re-written version of Vajubhai Tank’s literal translation of Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search of An Author titled Takhto Bolechhe (in Gujrati) won prizes for production, acting and set-design at the Maharashtra State Drama competition. The play was directed by Honey Chhaya and the set design was by Chhel Vaida and Paresh Daru.
During early 1960s he wrote a monthly feature for the All India Radio, Bombay.
In the United States -
In 1988 in collaboration with Middfest International and the India Foundation Harish published the very first anthology of poems by expat Indians from the U.S.A and Canada titled Poetry:India. It was the very first anthology that included poems in multiple languages of India. The poems in this anthology were printed in the original Indian language with an English translation of the same along side of it. Poetry:India included Gujrati poems by Adil Mansuri, Indra Shah, Preeti Sen Gupta, Chandrakant Shah and many others as well as poems in Marathi, Bengali, Telugu and other languages.
His recent theatre work includes the memorable Narmad – Maari Hakikat and its English version Narmad – My Life, Hindi version of Pirandelo’s Six Characters In Search of An Author with Dr. Shail Gowda, Mark Twain In India, An Evening with Mary Carpenter, Echoes, Exit-stance, An Evening with Dorothy Parker and Bharati. Echoes, Bharati and the Dorothy Parker are awaiting production. His Amrit Keshav Nayak – a long one-act play in Gujarti was published early in 2007 by the Asait Sahitya Sabha, Mehsana, (Gujrat) India. Narmad – Maari Hakikat (the production script) has been published by Kala Gurjari, Mumbai. Harish also published (with the permission of Mr. Gulabdas Broker) a re-edited and expanded version of Narmad’s biography in English that was originally written by Gulabdas Broker and was published by Sahitya Academi, India in the early 1960s and now out of print. The publication was made possible by the India Foundation in Dayton, Ohio with a grant from the local arts funding agency.
Exit-stance has been selected for performances during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival between May 28th and June 8th 2008.
Harish is a founder Trustee and Chairman of the India Foundation in Ohio for over two-decades.
Harish is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. The Dramatists Guild is the professional association of American playwrights.
He is a naturalized citizen of United States and has been resident of the United States for over four- decades. He lives with his wife Sharonjee and two cats in Dayton, Ohio.
Contact: The India Foundation, 895 Kentshire Dr. Dayton, Ohio 45459-2327 U.S.A. email: firstname.lastname@example.org).