The Gujarati theatre with its commercial performances has travelled a long way since 1880s and is currently considered to be one of the most profitable theatres compared to other theatres.
Spread over Gujarat and Mumbai, Gujarati theatre was once a leading platform to showcase social issues through a popular medium. The key objective, however, seemed well camouflaged in ‘double meaning’ comedy plays for a long period. The tradition still continues, though some commercial as well as non-commercial Gujarati performances, like Kanji Viruddh Kanji, Welcome Zindagi, Tu Ladje Anamika, Rajjoo and Kasturba have given a positive signal of revival of the ‘insightful’ Gujarati theatre in Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
These recent plays, which met Gujaratis theater lovers both in Mumbai and Gujarat’s expectations, signal a change in their taste and willingness to accept the change in the theatrical performances. There was a time, when the effective talent pool of Gujarati theatre was believed to be limited only to Mumbai, a myth that plays like Welcome Zindagi and ‘102 Not Out’ busted in no time.
Saumya Joshi, director of both these plays and an emerging figure in the Gujarati mainstream theatre, said that the talent pool has now spread to Gujarat. Talking to DNA, he said: “There are many Amdavadi artistes who are working in the mainstream commercial plays in Mumbai.” For instance, his play Welcome Zindagi was produced, directed and rehearsed in Ahmedabad but stood as one of the most successful commercial productions in Mumbai.
Joshi said that there was a time, when Gujarati theatre was divided into two extreme ends — the mainstream commercial production, which was based more on comedy (often ones with double meanings) and the extremely experimental types. “One has to balance in between these two extremes,” Joshi said.
According to Aditi Desai, the middle path between the two extreme ends is the New Wave Theatre. “There are many new theatre artistes, directors and producers in the Gujarati theatre, which had created a new hope for this art — so long polluted with meaningless plays,” she said.
Desai’s last venture was direction of Kasturba — a play, which has been widely accepted by the audience. “This is the first time that people purchased tickets for such a play and interestingly, the shows even went housefull!” she said. This seems that the audience got what they seek. The 50-year-old theatre artist further said that her association with the world of theatre, both as a performer and a director, has been for many years now, but this was the first time when she saw many new faces coming to watch a play.
The audience, according to another theatre artiste, Nisarg Trivedi, has never demanded comedy and meaningless performances — these are theatre artistes who accepted easy ways to sell their products. He said that history had witnessed the near extinction of Gujarati folk theatre — Bhavai — because it was polluted with meaningless acts instead of its core objective. The Gujarati theatre too is going on the same track, the artiste lamented.