- A Socio-Political History Of Marathi Theatre: Thirty Nights by Makarand Sathe
Makarand Sathe's A Socio-Political History of Marathi Theatre: Thirty Nights is described by Kumar Ketkar, in the introduction, as part discourse and part keertan, a didactic form of storytelling employed in Hindu temples (p. xxiii). Using a meta-framework of narrative dialogue between a clown and a playwright to trace the history of Marathi theatre, Sathe does a magnificent job of keeping readers aware of regional and national narratives occurring in colonial/post-colonial India by drawing parallel influences between theatre and national politics. He offers several insights into Marathi theatre while simultaneously acknowledging noteworthy contributions made by those overlooked by the mainstream. The book details substantial historical information intertwined between the history of India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, excerpts from plays that deepen the reader's understanding of the work, critical analysis, and commentary. A Socio-Political History of Marathi Theatre grapples with a core question of "Who am I?" over three volumes, spread over a course of thirty nights (which are presented as thirty chapters). Sathe's examination explores the psyche of playwrights, their contributions, the surrounding social politics, and political ideologies which helped shape theatre in modern India.
Volume I begins with the period 1843–1947 and focuses on the theatre of the colonial era. Beginning with the debate over which play counts as the first official Marathi play, Sathe introduces the "First Three" with information regarding structure, themes, and social influence: Vishnudas Bhave's Sita Swayamvar in 1843, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule's Truteeya Ratna in 1855, and Kirloskar's Sangeet Shakuntal in 1880. He adds V. J. Kirtane's Thorale Madhavrao Peshawe as a key contributor for its simple and realistic approach to language. In a country where mythological drama is still relevant to unifying values, Sathe's study on historical farces is eye opening. He illustrates how the plays bridge people from across the classes, with Brahmins coming into contact with the poor and working class. He notes that while the early farces in Marathi were a collection of formulated pranks, lacking in structured scripts, they evolved to include deep social commentary. N. H. Bhagwat's Mor L.L.B. Prahasan in 1882, for example, serves as the first of its kind to intermingle social issues via the treatment of its satirical dialogues. [End Page 296]
Volume I continues within its examination of the intersections of drama and national issues, especially issues of gender. The topic of women's rights emerges as significant in the plays serving as social reforms via the discussion of works by N. B. Kanitkar and Govind Ballal Deval. Volume I also notes how many of these plays were written in a prose format. For example, Shankar Moro Renade's Adhikardan Vivechana athava Sthanik Swarajya Vataghat is almost entirely prose, with very few songs. The language of this play is realistic, employing the use of English and Marathi. The play deals with complex political issues: the nature of British rule and resultant socioeconomic and cultural conditions, colonial education, and native governance. An important aspect in the advancement toward modernity was the concern of issues toward the individual in the Ibsenian form. Andhalyanchi Shala written by S. V. Vartak is an example of the shift to this type of modern drama.
Sathe illustrates how Bal Gangadhar Tilak's rise as a national leader (1880–1920) was critical in how Marathi theatre established a Tilakite identity. Tilak was portrayed as the chief protagonist in many plays, several writers of the times were his supporters, and Tilak himself also supported many theatre companies. These political works deepened with Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar, who according to Sathe, paved the way for the golden age of political Marathi theatre. Volume I also introduces readers to the origins and early concepts of experimental theatre with playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari, who often broke from social norms.
One of the most interesting features in Volume I is a discussion of the theatre before 1930 which deals...