Stage, Lights and Action

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By Varsha Halabe

HOUSTON: Growing up, going to see a Marathi play meant wearing a traditional outfit with a jasmine “gajra” in my hair and entering the famous Balgandharva Rangmandir in Pune, India, amidst wafting aromas of perfumes, jasmine flowers and mouth-watering “batatawadaas”. Yesterday was such a day; except I was across the globe in Houston, Texas, at the state-of-the art Berry Center where The Houston Maharashtra Mandal hosted two Marathi plays in one day; a Natyamahotsav as it was called. There was a slight nip in the air, despite the bright sunshine, as attendees entered the Berry Center as early as 9:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The Mandal’s Committee greeted us pleasantly in their red and white colored coded outfits; an amalgam of sarees, churidars, palazzos, shirts and kurtas.

The first play was a comedy written by the veteran of Marathi literature, Acharya P.K. Atre, entitled “Moruchi Mavshi” made eternally famous by the likes of Vijay Chavan. It was based on an original English play, “Charles’s Aunt” written by Brandon Thomas in 1893. There was trepidation as to whether Natyagandhar, the acting group from Detroit, would be able to do justice; given the fact that comedies are anyway hard to carry off. However, the audience was very, very pleasantly surprised at the professionalism and the flawless acting by everyone. Abhijit Paradkar, in the role of “Moruchi Mavshi” left an indelible mark in everyone’s mind. The whole team was brilliant with their timing of dialogues, acting, singing (a special mention of Yashodhan Joshi’s “navri natali aga bai supari phutali”), costumes and characterization.

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Current affair references were seamlessly blended into the original age-old script, which seemed to come alive as if in its youth. The audience was in fits of laughter as Abhijit flaunted on stage batting his eyelids and fortifying his statements with an accented, “I swear!” More surprising was the fact that the team had last put up a show in 2014 and then enacted it before us with just a month in hand! This play was a perfect example of how good things can be when a group of like-minded, passionate people come together.

Natyagandhar was formed by Abhijit Paradkar and he is their Producer too. This was their 8th show of “Moruchi Mavshi” in the USA and their 50th acting performance. “Moruchi Mavshi” was directed remotely by Connecticut based Chaitanya Puranik over Skype! This group has put together 22 plays so far! Last year, they did a play called “Prayanotsav” for which all elements were indigenous to  Natyagandhar; writing, direction, production, costumes, sets, everything.

The afternoon became sluggish with a luncheon buffet provided by Natura on Hillcroft Street owned by Mrs. Nabar. Dishes were adorned with Chhole, Puris, Raita, Kothimbir (Cilantro) Wadi, Masale Bhaat (rice) and luscious looking Orange Sheera.  Lunch was served in the Banquet Room called Wild Cats, a slight exaggeration after a heavy Maharashtrian meal. There was, of course, tea to help get rid of the inevitable siesta temptation. But, there were more important things to take care of! Those interested in getting good seats immediately stood in line for the second play.

Volunteers and the Mandal’s Committee members were busy helping set the stage for the second play by a professional group visiting from India. Local Houstonites had built the set from scratch and had been working hard at it for over a month.

The chatter in the queue died down as the doors to the auditorium opened for “Teen Payanchi Sharyat”; the title of the second play written by Abhijit Guru.  This was based on an English play, “The Business of Murder” by Richard Harris.  The ambience, with dim lighting and cool air, was perfect for a suspense-thriller directed by none other than Vijay Kenkare. The cast, too, comprised well-known names such as Sanjay Narvekar, Lokesh Gupte, and Sharvari Lohokare. Expectations were very high and the audience waited with bated breath for the curtain to open. The script unfolded, taciturn in parts, loud at times, and somewhat predictably. The cast portrayed very good acting and the sound system in the auditorium did justice to the pensive moments.  

The evening ended on a well-deserved thank-you note. Once again, The Houston Maharashtra Mandal successfully put together another culturally rich day for all the passionate enthusiasts who attended. There was still broad daylight outside as cars started pulling out of the Berry Center parking lot, making Sunday just a tad bit longer before the work week started, yes, all over again.

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