Direction : Savitri Medhatul
Writer : Bhushan Korgaonkar
Cast : Pushpa Satarkar, Sunita Dhadralkar, Akanksha Kadam, Latabai Walkar & others


Deepa Karmalkar

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The performance opens with captivating lavani dancers casting a spell in their colourful, bejewelled attire with their 'come hither' signals. It is the dancers' interaction with the audience that makes SANGEET BARI unique, which is interspersed with dramatic narratives, mirroring the career graphs and the life stories of the dancers. Lavani dance is performed in Tamasha theatre and each group has to wait its turn to perform, thus the name of the show ''Sangeet Bari'' - the musical turn of a lavani group. The dancers dance, entreating the audience to whistle and applaud, and of course their admirers rise to the occasion with wild hooting. It is a show crackling with raw sensuous energy and excitement.

The narrators are writer Bhushan Korgaonkar, who has authored an eponymous book and has also made a documentary about lavani dancers, and director Savitri Medhatul. They keep the flow of the show going with nuggets of information about this tribe of dancers, and the struggles they face, and combine these with excerpts of interviews with their patrons.


The dancers perform a range of lavani dances from the traditional veil lifting followed by raunchy dance moves to the 'baithi lavani' which is more about the enactment of a song. The show also brings to light the lesser known lavanis like the one about a woman's discomfort during her menses! While all the dancers are also competent singers, there is a separate lead singer in the show who sings for the performers with a poker face in stark contrast to the dancers' super emotive faces. Pushpa Satarkar, Sunita Dhadralkar and Akanksha Kadam take the lead in successive lavani dances and mesmerise the audience. But it is the veteran Shakuntalabai Nagarkar, a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, who is the show-stealer. Apart from song and dance, she enriches the proceedings with her fabulous mono acts. Whether it is a priest taking his ritual bath in the holy river before his prayers and then furtively glancing at a passerby beauty or a new client trying to endear himself to the lavani girls, Shakuntalabai enlivens the performance with variety entertainment.

The narrators never let the tempo slip. The viewers learn about the three nomadic tribes - the Dombari, the Kalwaat and the Kolhati that the lavani artistes belong to. They also get to know of the clandestine affairs of society big shots with these dancers wherein they disguise themselves leading double lives, leading up to the sorry state of messed-up lives. The show concludes with the poignant story of a dancer's son who grows to become a doctor but when his seniors learn about his mother's vocation, they bully him so rigorously that he commits suicide, sending shock waves through his community. The dancers held a massive protest rally against those senior doctors but they were let off with light punishment, reflecting the entrenched and orthodox mores of society in which these dancers often lead marginalised lives. In spite of the harsh reality, SANGEET BARI focuses on the art of the lavani and its rich tradition in the folk theatre of Maharashtra.

*Deepa Karmalkar is a film and theatre reviewer. She has been an entertainment journalist for over fifteen years.

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