Shantata! Awishkar Chalu Aahe

- Reema Gehi.

Never mind the ongoing perils. For over three decades, Awishkar has not swerved from its commitment to theatre. Initially, Awishkar was part of Rangayan, a theatre group of the 1960s. Its repertoire of talent included, Vijaya Jaywant (now Mehta), Vijay Tendulkar, Shreeram Lagoo, Arun Kakade, Arvind and Sulabha Deshpande. Vijaya Mehta directed their first production Sasa Aani Kasav. When she left to study in the U K, Arvind Deshpande was in charge of most of Rangayan's responsibilities. Their landmark productions Tendulkar's Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe was staged in 1967. Girish Karnad, was closely associated with Rangayan, before he moved to Bangalore. Today, he recalls, "Tendulkar would never rewrite his plays..but when Arvind insisted that a final scene should have a monologue, he agreed and it turned out to be one of the play's high points."

After Vijaya Mehta returned from the U K, differences of opinion between the members of the group, led the Shantata team including Kakade, Tendulkar and the Deshpande couple, to go their separate ways. Karnad believes, "The splitting of Rangayan meant a huge blow to Indian theatre. But this tragedy gave genesis to an association called Awishkar."

In 1971, Awishkar was formed. It staged Tendulkar's Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe and Karnad's Tughlaq, both directed by Arvind Deshpande. Although, Awishkar's Tughlaq was a grandiose production with several artistes, huge sets, splendid costumes (designed by Dr Sarayu Doshi) and stage lighting (designed by Tapas Sen), it failed before the audience. Karnad says, "I was awed by the vitality of the team. However, I personally thought that the actor, who essayed the role of Tughlaq, didn't have the stamina which the character demanded."

Around then, several Marathi theatre groups, including Awishkar made Dadar's Chhabildas School their stage. At the unusual venue, Awishkar staged some of their most notable productions like Saari Raat, Paahije Jaatiche, Poster and Dhol Taashe. Bureaucratic policies, however, ended the Chhabildas movement.

Kakade rewinds, "After producing good constructive theatre for 18 long years, we were asked to go away from there." In 1992, Awishkar resurfaced at the Mahim municipal school which to date remains their centrepoint. Awishkar stages plays in a small hall. A small room serves as its office and green room. As playwright, Ramu Ramanathan points out, "Awishkar is an antithesis of the proscenium theatre and also a breakaway from the perception that the stage is governed by the elite."

Awishkar is essentially dedicated to experimental Marathi theatre but it has staged plays in other languages as well. Awishkar partly produced Satyadev Dubey's recent bio-play, Khuda Key Liye Mat Dekha. "My association with Awishkar goes back to four decades. I share an emotional relationship with the team.. They are family to me," says Dubey.

Awishkar has taken risks. In 1994, other theatre groups could not think of staging Mahesh Elkunchwar's eight and half hour long trilogy - Wada Chirebandi, Magna Talyakathi, Yuganta. Awishkar did under the direction of Chandrakant Kulkarni.

The annual children's play Durga Zali Gauri is staged with a different cast every year. A workshop with children culminates in a musical play. Initiated by Guruji Parvati Kumar in 1982, the performances of Durga Zali Gauri continue to run to full houses.

Of late, the group has organised screenings of short films. Theatre personalities Sunil Shanbag and Devendra Balsaraf shortlist the films from the entries received. Currently, Awishkar has six new productions lined up. But the deaths of Vijay Tendulkar and Chetan Datar have been severe blows. To pay a tribute to them, Awishkar is reviving Tendulkar's plays, which were directed by Datar, with the original cast as far as possible. These include Baby and Kahani Sumitra Ki. An overwhelmed Kakade states, "After moving away from Chhabildas in 1992, this has been probably, the most distressing year for Awishkar. But as they say --- the show must go on."

*Reema Gehi is a theatre enthusiast, a student of Trinity College of Speech and Drama and a freelance journalist. The article first appeared in Hindustan Times' HT Café on August 17, 2008. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

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