Thursday, March 5, 2009

The dwindling art of Sangeet Naataks.

Got a chance to see two fabulous Sangeet Naataks in the last couple of weeks - 'कट्यार काळजात घुसली' and 'सौभद्र'. I am a fan of Natya Sangeet and so, both the plays were more than a treat for me :) . Saw the first one at Bharat Natya Mandir and second at Balgandharva Ranga Mandir.

'कट्यार काळजात घुसली' (Katyar Kaljat Ghusli lit. Dagger pierced the heart) is about 'Gharanebazi' and how it adversely affects an aspiring, young and talented singer. 'Gharanebazi' essentially means hostililty towards other gharanas. In the past, this practice was an integral part of the Indian Classical Music tradition. Today, distinction based on Gharanas is not uncommon but, the unfriendliness has subsided. The play is from the period when, musical Guru from one gharana would never teach a student who had earlier learned in another gharana. Nowadays, one can certainly have gurus from multiple gharanas.
I managed to click some snaps during the play - they are here.

सौभद्र (Saubhadra) is a play about Lord Krishna's cunning plot to let his elder sister (सुभद्रा) marry whom she wishes to marry with (अर्जुन), rather than someone whom her elder brother thinks fit (दूर्योधन). The subtle message in the play asks us to accept love marriage as a valid way of matrimony. This message to the society was much needed in the nineteenth century when, the play was conceived.

Marathi sangeet naataks are a blend of music and dialogues. But so are Bollywood films, aren't they ? The important difference however, is - there is no playback singing in sangeet naataks. The songs (many of them based on raagdari) are sung and not lip-synced. Also, the songs in sangeet naataks are meaningful, well composed (rhyming etc) and at times philosophical. Unlike in bollyflicks, every song fits integrally into the drama and is temporally relevant. The songs serve to move the story ahead. Many dialogues which would otherwise have been in prose are incorporated into the songs.

The art of sangeet naatak has survived more than one and a quarter centuries. In the late nineteenth century, when Marathi naatak industry was in its infancy, Annasaheb Kirloskar is said to have created the first 'sangeet naatak' - Shakuntala. As with many marathi plays in that era, this one too was adapted from a Sanskrit play but, its music was said to be inspired by Persian musical plays. Sangeet naataks since then, saw many great writers, directors and actor-singers. Kirloskar, Deval, Kolhatkar, Bal Gandharva are few of the eminent names from the bygone era I am aware of.
In the mid and later 20th century eminent singers like Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande popularized natya sangeet and sangeet naataks. His role of Khansaheb in 'Katyar Kaljat Ghusli' become so popular that, he used to be called 'Pandit Vasantkhan Deshpande'. I have listened to his renditions literally hundreds of times and yet, I never wish to stop listening. The absolute ease with which he sang was his hallmark.

Today, sangeet naataks have not remained very popular. I think, sangeet naataks are a victim of their own requirements. For a sangeet naatak performer to be good, not only he needs to be a good looking actor, he also needs to be a learned classical singer. During the play, many songs get a 'once more', and the performer resings the song. But, it is an implicit requirement that the second rendition contains some improvisations and, is not just a copy of the initial one. To do this, one must have command and knowledge of music. Also, singing requires much more energy than dialogue delivery does. In addition to that, the performer has to learn-by-heart and practice the songs in addition to his dialogues. This translates into more time for rehearsals. An actor, willing and fitting to do all these things must be hard to find. Moreover, does a sangeet naatak performer earn appreciably more than a normal play actor ? Probably not. This fact might be keeping potential good performers away from sangeet naataks. Also, since the songs are based on classical music, those not interested in classical music prefer to stay away from sangeet naataks. Overall, the situation of sangeet naataks is not even as good as the situation of marathi naatak industry.

For people who like sangeet naataks, the only way to help keep the show running is - go and watch sangeet naataks. Once, twice, thrice.. whenever they have a show.

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Anonymous said...

आता तीच गत मराठी ची सुद्धा होणार आहे काही दिवसानी... मराठी मधून लिहा रे पोरानो..

Pranav said...

अगदी तेवढे होईल असे वाटत नाही मला, पण मुद्यात तथ्य मात्र आहे.
आणि, मराठीत लिहीण्याचे म्हणाल तर, केवळ typing speed कमी असल्यामुळे ब्लाँगवर मराठी वापरावेसे वाटत नाही :(

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suhas said...

I am also big fan of sangeet natak "katyar kaljat ghusali" please tell me how to download it. send me email on

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