HMM Presentation “Marathi Astitwa” Thrills Music Lovers

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HOUSTON: On Sunday, April 29, Houston Maharashtra Mandal (HMM), fondly known as He Maze Mandal, presented another quality program, Marathi Astitwa, in collaboration with the Graduate Indian Student Organization (GISO) at the University of  Houston Student Center. Marathi Astitwa, is a production of Grace Entertainment. HMM Dhol-Tasha team added live music to the program that held the audience spell-bound for over two hours. Here is a review by Dan Mayur.

Marathi Astitwa
Tracing the Evolution of Marathi Culture and Language
  through a Mind-expanding, Audio-Visual Bonanza.

Recent years have seen a plethora of Indian cultural programs in the US. There is a beeline of renowned professional artists from India pursuing the lucrative American market fueled by moneyed NRI’s. Most of these programs follow set formulas of Hindustani classical music or Bollywood-style popular entertainment. So it is a special happening when a group of talented artists of our own, local amateurs all, presents an exceptional program, especially one that is conceptualized in a unique way. The musical “Marathi Astitwa” is such an offering. It has received rave reviews and captured many hearts in its recent triumphant tour of the US.

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Produced and directed by our beloved, artistic couple, Manasi and Shreyas Bedekar, with music by the very versatile Satyajit Prabhu of Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-fame in  India, Marathi Astitwa is a feast with a delightful smorgasbord of exquisite narratives and evocative Folksongs, Bhajans, and Santwani by several accomplished artists drawn from various parts of the US. But the show is not mere entertainment. It is a performance for a purpose delivered with great passion. It is about Marathi Asmita. Marathi Vaibhav. Marathi Theva to be passed on with pride to the next generation.

Marathi Astitwa is a celebration of Maharashtrian culture. And above all, it is about the preservation of the unparalleled beauty of the Marathi Language. A language is beautiful only when it is pure and properly spoken. Social scientists say that language, as the primary means of interaction, is the single most powerful bond that holds a community together and helps define its culture. And culture means social mores and traditions, festivals, food, literature, arts, a shared history and communication. That is why a common language is central to the preservation of culture.

Today, in the fast-paced, globalized, multi-cultural world, the Marathi language and the traditional Maharashtrian culture are under attack. They are, of course, evolving with time but are often in danger of losing their essence. Like Bollywood Hinglish, Manglish (an awkward mix of Marathi and English) is vitiating the Marathi language through such fashionable nonsense like, “Aaga, these days kinai, Marathi words remember karayla khoop difficult jaate.” And the same is true with age-old Maharashtrian values in today’s pseudo Westernized world.

Fortunately, Manasi does not speak Manglish. Dressed in elegant traditional Maharashtrian garb, comely and personable Manasi, who conceived, wrote, and directed the show and narrates it, is very eloquent in her delivery in impeccable Marathi and her delightful diction. Her performance is totally mesmerizing as she leads the audience through the evolution of Marathi culture and language from Dnyaneshwari to the vision of Shivaji Maharaj to the modern times through a mosaic of adored Maharashtrian deities, artists, writers and politicians together with respected luminaries like Lokmanya Tilak and Phule and Karve and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Pu. La. Deshpande and Lata Mangeshkar among so many others.  The preservation of the very rich cultural heritage left by this galaxy of stars is the primary goal of Marathi Astitwa.

Astitwa is an abstract concept that refers to being or existence or presence. Manasi handles it in a novel way by personifying it into herself as a metaphor for Marathi Culture, the Language and the Land, all combined as she takes us through an exhilarating musical ride into the Warkari and Koli and Shetkari lives, the importance of Ganapati in the Marathi psyche followed by the ascent of Natyasangeet and Marathi Films. Indeed, this is an invaluable cultural treasure. However, like many lost civilizations of the past, it is in decline and may be lost irretrievably unless specific, deliberate measures are taken to safeguard it.

To this end, the show challenges the current generation, indeed all of us, to do our part in creating a cultural awareness and instilling its pride among the Marathi speaking families in the US. At the very minimum, we must respect the Marathi language, use it when appropriate and try to speak it in its pure, proper form. It goes without saying that Marathi organizations like HMM and BMM, whose avowed mission is to preserve Marathi culture, must insist on conducting all their business in Marathi.

Judging from the enthusiastic response, it was eminently clear that the audience loved this outstanding show with a great theme, superb music and brilliant artists. Viju Bhadkamkar with her trademark fluency in her opening remarks and the recital of a very apt Vasant Bapat poem set the stage for the program to follow. The singers Akshay Anavakar from New Jersey, Vibhuti Kavishwar from Seattle and Shreyas Bedekar supported by a very able team of musicians and behind-the-scene technical experts gave a great account of themselves and came through with flying colors.

But Manasi stole the show with her inspiring message in a narration that was music itself – profound, poetic and mellifluous. And she was humorous, particularly when she mimicked vernacular Marathi from various parts of Maharashtra like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Khandesh and Kolhapur.  In her a new star has risen on the horizon of the Houston entertainment scene. Standing ovation by the audience testified that the show achieved its goal through its unique blend of art, animation, audio-visual effects, music and message.

Marathi Astitwa and its entire team is worthy of a huge applause and support from not just connoisseurs of great music but, indeed, from all lovers of Maharashtra and Marathi culture.