That first meeting in Pitti Hall was conducted in my broken Hindi.
I encountered Natak Co. about 10 years into my theatre career. For the last 10 years I have watched with jealousy as they have thought of ideas that I wish were mine, and spoken about feelings that I discovered I shared only once I had watched their play.
Last week Natak Company, a troupe from Pune, turned ten by having a festival of their work in Bombay and Pune. On their 10th anniversary, I thought it apt to list five reasons why I hate them!
Finesse:I first encountered this band of merry theatre makers at BMCC College in Pune, during a Thespo orientation meet. The meeting took place in their famed Pitti Hall, an activity room that has become the hotbed of student theatre in Pune. It is the Chabbildas of the 2000s. Not quite in terms of public performances, but for the number of shows that have rehearsed and emerged from its windowed walls.
Their first play that came to Thespo X (2008), Dalan, blew the audience away with its energy, joy, detailed performances, and wonderful set changes. When the classroom transformed into the house in only a few seconds, it celebrated everything that is magical about theatre.
That first meeting in Pitti Hall was conducted in my broken Hindi. The majority Marathi speaking audience must have looked at me with some consternation. Prabably, that’s why their first time attempt at Thespo was in a language far removed from them, English. And naturally they failed to make the festival shortlist. While we laugh at the foolhardiness of the idea today, it displayed their courage to consciously push past the boundaries of their known world. That same drive, led them to create two productions that toured to international festivals. Geli Ekvees Varsha (one of my favourite plays of all time), and Chakra performed at festivals in Italy and Czech Republic respectively.
Another reason why I hold the troupe in such regard is that they consistently pushed the limits. Geli, for example, broke everything. The fourth wall, the set, linguistic codes, etc. The play was in Marathi and Hindi, both in equal measure. Chakra was set in a time before language was formed, so for over an hour their skilled actors mesmerised us with a series of guttural grunts and sounds. This constant search for new forms has continued even in their more recent work, like Bin Kamache Samvaad, which is almost a promenade show where the performance begins while the audience is still queuing up outside.
By and large Natak Co. has existed in the “experimental” theatre space. Their plots are often inspired by the world around them. Apradhi Sugandh emerged from the culling of trees by the Pune Municipality. Mi Ghalib looked at the works of Ghalib from the struggles of the current climate. Yet each of these plays has had gargantuan sets, intricate light designs, an army of characters, and resounding live music scores. Somehow they have managed to make these shoestring budgets go further than most other theatre companies. There are very few compromises when it comes to the vision of the play.
Today many Natak Co. members are household names thanks to their work on television or cinema. Amey Wagh gets mobbed after his theatre performances. Nipun Dharamadhikari, is now also a film director of note. Siddharth Menon starred as Alladin. Gandhar Sangoram is the music composer of virtually every third Marathi film. Aalok Rajwade and Abhay Mahajan are in almost every independent film you can think of. Dharmakirti Sumant has built a reputation as one of the most exciting playwrights we have. But what is remarkable is that these “original” members have nurtured a newer generation who are as active and work as independently, so that the group remains as prolific. Siddhesh Purkar, Kshitish Date, Ravi Choudhary, Akshay Tanksale, have all continued the crazy tradition of breaking boundaries. What’s more infuriating is that each Natak Co. member inhabits different roles depending on the production – actor, director, playwright, music director. Some of the others like Suraj Parasnis and Omkar Bhutkar have gone on to establish their own theatre companies. This constant influx of talent (mainly from the BMCC college theatre group), keeps the group young in energy, ambition, and content. Thereby, keeping the company, most importantly, relevant.
I encountered Natak Co. about 10 years into my theatre career. For the last 10 years I have watched with jealousy as they have thought of ideas that I wish were mine, and spoken about feelings that I discovered I shared only once I had watched their play. My understanding of theatre has been enhanced because of their shows, and I grudgingly picked up a little Marathi so I could understand more of their work. But what I detest most about them is that they make it so goddamn hard to hate them!
Here’s to many more decades of Natak Co.
The writer is a Mumbai-based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo.