Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

Enthusiasts recently got together to revive an art that Gujarat boasts of – Theatre. The day was 27th March that has been celebrated as the World Theatre Day since 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI).

In the olden days, theatre was the only source of entertainment for the rural public. A makeshift stage and a curtain, a couple of artists and the entire village would buzz with enthusiasm. While for the city audience, it always has been a curio. Today, the scenario has changed. People have become the slaves of other forms of media. To preserve the Gujarati theatre, we need to know how rich and varied its history in Gujarat has been.


The theatre art is more than 155 years old in Gujarat. The Gujarati play Rustom, Jabuli and Sorab, which is based on the popular dramatic tale of Shah Nama, is considered as the beginning of Gujarati theatre. It was staged at the Grant Road Theatre of Bombay on October 29, 1853.

The theatre did not have original plays needed to have an identity of its own. This compelled the famous Gujarati poet, Umashankar Joshi to make a scornful comment. In 1953, when the centenary of Gujarati theatre was celebrated, he said, “this is a wedding procession without the groom.”

There have been very less changes in the Gujarati theatre. However, the Parsi dramatic companies laid the modern Gujarati theatre’s foundation in the late 1980s. These theatre companies brought western techniques and themes as well as music to form a renewed vernacular theatre. In the modern Gujarati theatre, issues like bride price, witches, women’s health, alcoholism, vaccination etc. are raised.


Due to the onset of mainstream media like the television and films, theatre took a backseat. Few actors and fewer experiments take place in this form of art. Also, the performers who start out anxious to do something different lose no time in joining the mainstream at the first opportunity. The writers and directors associated with such movements do not happen to be so closely associated with theatre that they can be relied upon to continue to provide challenging plays.

A ray of hope in the dark future of the theatre art is the intercollegiate and other competitions. They have always been the source of emerging, new talents. The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Bombay) and the former Bombay State Competitions held between 1950 and 1960 provided the majority of the works that served as the foundations of the Gujarati theatre.


These competitions provided most of the projects to the professional Gujarati theatre. And many personalities were born out of such programs who infused life into the art. Pravin Joshi, Vijay Dutt and Kanti Madia were launched in the 1953 competition. In the same way, some of the intercollegiate competitions organized by the Indian National Theatre in 1975-78 gave break to the talents like Mahendra Joshi, Paresh Raval, Mukesh Raval, Siddharth Randeria, Homi Wadia, Sameer Khakhar, Nikita Shah, Sujata Mehta, Daisy Rani and Latesh Shah.
Competitions held in the late eighties and early nineties have produced Prakash Kapadia and Mihir Bhuta (writers), Rajesh Joshi (director), Piyush-Taufik (music directors), Manoj Joshi, Tushar Joshi, Jamnadas Majithia, Bakul Thakkar, Shefali Shetty and Sejal Shah (performers) who went on to prove their abilities on the professional stage.

Senior and popular artistes like Jaya Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha also ventured in the famous Gujarati theatre production house named the Sanjay Goradia Production.
The new Gujarati theatre has got some of the finest actors like Deena Gandhi-Pathak, Anasuya Sutaria, Nalini Mehta, Jashvant Thakkar, Dhananjay Thakkar, Krinalal, Khasrani, Kailash Pandya, Markand Bhatt, Urmila Bhatt, Pranasukh Nayak, Jyoti Vaidya and many others. One of the most versatile Gujarati actresses is Sarita Joshi, who has dominated the new Gujarati theatre for the longest time. One more talented Gujarati dancer and actress is Mallika Sarabhai, who made her name for the role of Draupadi in the world famous playwright Peter Brooke’s ‘Mahabharata’.

Among others, the audience has loved the performances of actors like Siddharth Randeria, Feroz Bhagat, Dilip Joshi, Tiku Talsania, Padmarani and Apara Mehta in the Gujarati theatres.


In the 21st century, films and TV have taken over the field of entertainment. But the Gujarati theatre has not lost its charm yet. Though the flow of the plays has slowed down and changes have to be made to match with the tastes of the audiences, the Gujarati theatre has survived along with the new style.

But not only have the sets, lights and other technical departments gone poor, but also the standard of direction and acting is quite low. The Government academies are indifferent to this matter. Also, the talented artists on the Gujarati stage are not willing to face strife in order to chase a vision of theatre for their artistic satisfaction.

So much is the strength of the Gujarati theatre that it is said that a Gujarati play named ‘Harishchandra’ influenced the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi very much.

The Gujarati theatre has inspired thinking of the people, created social awareness and national spirit during the pre-independence days. Gujarati people’s love to patronize their mother-tongue plays has marked the place of Gujarati theatre in the World theatres through its colorful representation of the plays. May this art see hundreds of such World Theatre Days!

Read original article at:!_566

Indian society offers a prominent place to the living traditions and cultures. There can be no doubt about the fact that traditional art forms reflect the ideals of the society, its determination to survive, its ethos, emotions, fellow-feelings, and so on. Even the people’s routine language seems to have a creativity of its own, though may or may not be based on the roots. This type of creativity is spontaneous and emerges from the circumstances as an expression of the feelings. It is from this natural rhythm that the theatre art was born. Theatre in itself is a complete form of art as it involves dialogues, songs, dance, acting, music and emotions in its framework.

One such theatre form that Gujarat is proudly a home to, since the 14th century is Bhavai. The name of this folk theatre is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhaav’ meaning expression of an emotion or a feeling. While according to some scholars Bhavai means Bhava + Aai where Bhava means Universe and Aai means mother, together it means mother of the Universe, Goddess Amba.


Until the 14th century, Gujarat had a rich tradition of writing and performing Sanskrit plays. This was when Asait Thakker, a folk singer of religious narrative stories, launched folk participatory theatre called Bhavai, using mythological and historical themes and characters, creating awareness in the audiences on the social issues. It is believed that Asait has written around 360 performances out of which around 60 survive today.


The story belongs to Unjha village in North Gujarat. Asait Thakker was an Audichhya Brahmin and a Kathakar (Narrator of Puranic Stories) in Unjha. His host Hemala Patel’s daughter, Ganga was abducted by a Muslim Subedar named Sardar Jahan Roz. Worried, Hemala Patel urged their family priest Asait to free his daughter by using his artistic skills. Asait rushed to the Sardar and pleased him with his songs and performances. He then claimed Ganga to be his daughter and asked Sardar to liberate her.

But the Sardar was not convinced and asked Asait to dine with the girl in the same plate to prove his claim. Ganga belonged to a lower class and during those days it was considered unholy for the upper class to eat with the lower ones. However, Asait obeyed and ate from the same dish with Ganga.

The Brahmins of the village excommunicated Asait Thakker for his ‘unholy dinner’. Asait accepted this decision too and chose to stay out with his three sons and live by his art. He picked upon this living tradition of Bhavai to survive and started improving it.

Since then the caste of performers of Bhavai has been called Tragalas and it is said that they are the descendents of Asait Thakker.


Bhavai is a rare symphony of religious as well as romantic feelings. Each performance is called a ‘Vesha’, meaning ‘Dress’ in literal sense. These are usually episodes from the day to day life of the community. Subtle social criticism laced with sharp humor is the specialty of Bhavai. Also, the incompatible behavior of the high class people is scoffed at in Bhavai, may be due to the anger of the injustice suffered by its originator, Asait Thakker.

Women are strictly prohibited to take part in Bhavai; hence the males perform their roles too, which makes the drama even more interesting. People belonging to various castes and classes are a part of Bhavai, right from the King to the Knave.


Bhavai is staged at any open-air place, generally near the temples. The players enter the village by the afternoon time and announce their presence by playing of the Bhungal. The Bhungal is a four feet long copper pipe that provides a strong note and is unique to Bhavai. The villagers gather as the darkness descends. Different playlets are performed during the night and sometimes even for a longer duration.

Before the performance begins, the Bhavai players place a picture of Goddess Amba and an earthen lamp in the centre of a circle. The lamp is kept burning throughout the performance to keep the blessings of the Goddess alive. The place or the circle is called Chachar. The Bhavaiyas (Bhavai players) sing religious songs to invoke the Goddess’s blessings as well as to settle the audience.

The chief of the group is called a Nayak. He is the one to enter first and mark the Chachar inside which the performance takes place. Next, the actors enter from a distance with lamps in their hands and weaving dance patterns in the air. The members of the orchestra are placed at the edge of the Chachar that includes Bhungal, Tabla, Cymbals and Harmonium.

The start of the Bhavai is marked by the ‘Avanu’ i.e. an entrance song and the Bhungal is played loudly to inform the actor as his cue. This Avanu gives a clue as to what the entire plot of the Bhavai will be. First enters Ganpati, an actor with a bronze plate that covers his face. Lord Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and the God of benevolence. After Him, comes Goddess Kali with two torches in Her hands to bless the villagers and their cattle wealth.
After these appearances, the Vesha actually starts with the entry of Ranglo (also called Jhuthana) who is the main comic character of Bhavai. He is the one who acts as a conscience of the people who satirizes, criticizes and lampoons the doings of the higher authorities. He makes the audience laugh and enjoy, at the same time leaves a social message for them to ponder on.

The Nayak and the Jester always remain on the stage to direct the course of action with their commentary and intervention. The dancing, singing and acting in the colorful clothes goes on till the wee hours of the morning.


Let there be no conclusions! It is observed that Bhavai is dying due to the anglicization of Gujarati theatre and the urban touch to the dramas. Television has become too famous in the rural areas and has taken the place of this traditional art. Also, our times are not aware about the history and the strength of such media. It is time we realize that arts like Bhavai are not just the ‘Ta Thaiya, Thaiya Ta Thai’ that we witness in the movies. Efforts on an extensive scale will be needed to reenergize these arts.

Read original article at:,%20Thaiya%20Ta%20Thai%E2%80%99:%20Bhavai_123