Sunil Barve actor, producer and a friend, wrote an article about a Marathi play produced by him under the banner Herbarium 2. Herbarium is a collection of preserved plants stored, catalogued, and arranged systematically for study later. The idea is to look at the plants and leaves after enough time has passed, and to view them in posterity. Sunil named his endeavor Herbarium for the old plays to be enjoyed nostalgically after 3 to 4 decades. Herbarium 1, was extremely successful where Sunil revived five old Marathi plays, in 2010. The response from audience was exceptional, to say the least. Each drama had 25 performances all over Maharashtra. Herbarium 2, started with a Marathi play, Pati Gele Ga Kathewadi पती गेले ग काठेवाडी. This was in September 2017.
Sunil wrote the article in surprise, to the reaction from the audience; he said where has the audience gone? It was just a matter of seven years. In that period, very good response for Herbarium 1, switched to ok response in Herbarium 2. Sunil was wondering what could have happened during this period? Sunil and I spoke on phone on the subject. I think that these seven years were crucial years where the generation which was nostalgic about the old plays, became much older and the younger people were not very keen about those plays.
Life meanders in a way where old likes & dislikes change, new thought processes come up, new technologies and media like Netflix become popular. The traditions and social ethos change with time. We may feel that certain things continue and do not change much. But they do change, though subtly! For example, foods and food habits change over a period. In my childhood drinking coffee in Maharashtra was almost non-existent; now we have so many coffee-shops and bistros. Drinking alcohol during my school times was taboo but now it is a socially accepted drink. Stadiums used to be full for Test matches, but slowly one-day matches took over; T-20 was the next step but IPL jamboree is the most popular now.
50’s in the last century had movies which were themes based on nation which had just earned freedom, मेरे देश की धरती सोना उगले, उगले हिरे मोती. 60’s films were more of sad stories and love stories. Then in the next decade came angry young man movies. So, trends keep on changing. Now the popular movies are, Salman Khan type of movies like Dabang. Connoisseurs of movies may like art movies with subtle stories, but general populace prefers Dabang. Connoisseurs may call such movies gross, but life’s realities are different! Ultimately, making movies and producing plays is business and their success will be dependent the masses and not classes.
Connoisseurs of dramas would rather see Herbarium 1, but this number is dwindling. Are the days of such revivals numbered? Do people really care for plays in which Dr. Lagoo, Satish Dubashi, Nilu Phule and Kashinath Ghanekar acted? Do people now really care of writers & poets like Vi Sa Khandekar and Kusumagraj? If they are not in awe of such personalities, then there will be no nostalgia. Someone like Pu La Deshpande may remain in the lime light for a generation or two more. Do we hear the names Ga Di Madgulkar and Shanta Shelke these days? Pu La, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohamad Rafi are still on pedestal but for how long will they remain there? The most popular actors of yester years were Clark Cable, Vivian Leigh? Heard these names anywhere lately?
Another thing that comes to mind is the strong drama movement in Newyork’s Broadway and in London. Similarly, strong activity happens in Prithvi theater in Mumbai and NSD in Delhi. This continues at one location in one city! But, does it mean that going to different towns to perform, may not happen in future? The costs have gone up because of travel, and now GST. With these limitations it can be difficult to revive old plays in future. What lies in future for attempts like Herbarium is difficult to judge but indications are that it is going to be a tough call! Maybe equivalent of Prithvi theater in Pune, is the way forward!
I will share one more nostalgic experience with you. Recently, I purchased a device called “Caravan Saregama”. It looks like a Radio of the olden days with knobs and all! It of course, has a remote too! This device has 5000 songs stored on it and these songs can be played by mood, singer, music director and has Amin Sayani’s Binaca Geet Mala songs stored with his commentry. Songs are between the period 1950 to 2000! The moment I saw the advertisement I bought Caravan; nostalgia, love for olden days, not too much efforts to search songs, were the reasons I bought it. How long this device will sell? I don’t know. Maybe they can increase its life span by having songs between 1970 to 2010 and so on. Audience for 50’s & 60’s songs is going to dwindle fast! But will the young gang buy this device for themselves? What is Amin Sayani for them? What is “Hava mein Udata Jaye” for them? I am not sure! In fact, I am sure it does not mean anything to them!
Experiments like Herbarium are fantastic things that happened to Marathi theater, but the quality of the play and actors was not the only reason people flocked to see the first edition! Herbarium was “Amin Sayani” & “Hava mein Udata Jaye” of theater for them, nostalgia! Is my generation, which around 70, craving for Sehgal’s “Jab Dil hi toot Gaya”? No, it is not! The natural process of fading with the time, goes on all the time! I am quite sure that Sunil will definitely find the right path for more such experiments!
Since I am in filmy mood, let me end up with an appropriate Hindi song Ye Jeevan Hai! It says this is what life is all about! There is some happiness and there is some sorrow! Life goes on and on!