Friday, May 02, 2008

Talent and dramaturgy explode on the sea face.

14 April 1944 was the fateful day when SS Fort Stikine carrying a mixed cargo of cotton bales, gold, ammunition including around 1,400 tons of explosive caught fire and was destroyed in two giant blasts in the Victoria Dock of Bombay. The explosion scattered debris, sank surrounding ships and killed around 800 people. Later, in the summer of 1944, there was another equally gigantic explosion in the city. It was in the huge open air theatre specially built to host the ten-night festival of Marathi theatre on the gymkhana grounds between the Charni Road and Marine Lines railway stations on the sea face very close to where I live now. At that time, I was residing at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. In the company of my mother, I attended most of this feast of native dramaturgy specially mounted with a view to revive the Marathi theatre that had been in decline and decay for the past couple of decades. It was a huge and resoundning success and achieved its objective dramatically. Scuttlebutt has it that Prithviraj Kapoor happened to be in the packed house one night and was so moved by the absorption and adulation displayed by the audience that he was inspired to launch Prithvi Theatres to stage such hit Hindi plays as Gaddar, Deewar and Pathan in the early fifties at the Royal Opera House. I particularly recall seeing Othello aka Zunzarrao in Marathi starring Baburao Pendharkar, a leading Marathi film star then, as Othello and Jeevankala as Desdemona in the 1890 adoption by Govind Ballal Deval. Some of the other stage luminaries who participated, if memory serves, were Durga Khote, Balgandhrva, Nanasaheb Phatak, Jayamala Shiledar, Keshavrao Datey and the septuagenarian actor, Chintoba Gurav, who had been a part of the legendary Kirloskar Naatak Mandali when Annasaheb Kiroskar was alive. Those were the days of encore! galore and the play which would start at 9 p.m. would continue till 5 or 6 a.m. the next morning.