Baba Saheb Purandare has devoted his life to the cause of resurrection of the glory and patriotic zeal that imbued the golden period of Marathas under the inspiring leadership of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Baba Saheb does it with words, picture and sound -- all on a stage alive with over 150 men, women, horses and elephants. The whole show is suffused with this 75 years old zealot's dynamic concern and devotion to detail.
The preparations for this four-day event [30th October to 2nd November 1999] began months in advance. Of the several proposed sites, the final one to be selected was the stadium of Vaishnav College. The stage weighing 30 tonnes was almost fifty feet above the ground level. The art of construction lay in that it was erected on the surface without any foundation work. Two swinging galleries on both sides added to the magic of this show.
With the gradual setting of the sun, the notes of Purva Kalyan and Yaman usher in that period which lies trapped and buried within the pages of history. As the evening envelopes the ancient castle where the child Shiva was born, the Fort of Shivneri, the various battlegrounds, the audience are transported to that land where Chivalry and Courage are ever alive. The necessary suspension of disbelief is so effortless that the audience becomes a participant in the life and times of Shiva. Now the child Shiva is born, now he vows to seek independence for his people, how he battles with confusion and despair that leave him infused with still greater determination and energy -- all the events are brought home to the modern day audience in styles of speech, folk songs and dances that are no longer current. Yet the intelligibility does not suffer. That Shiva also stressed upon action rather than thought, ideal rather than the material, dedication rather than personal gain, endeavour rather than reward and truth instead of power is established through such folk-styles as Lavani, Powade, Bharud, Keertan, Tamasha, Pravachan and Bhajan etcetera. Not merely the words but their accentuation and intonation as well belonged to specific region of those times.
The mega-show, rightly called Maha-Naatya has been performed over five hundred times in various parts of India as well as at several places in the West. The mechanics of this elaborate show are relatively simple. Baba Sahebs labours with his team of artistes over speech, diction and phonetics. As he has scripted the play himself after a lifetime study of the history of Marathas, the speech and dialogues of each character evince his class and individual traits. Such is the care that the smallest nuance in accentuation and intonation is truthfully recorded.
This master recording is played with absolute synchronisation of characters' action on the stage and various sound and light effects. Due to this each member of the audience is able to comprehend the action irrespective of his distance from the stage. Baba Saheb trains a number of stage artistes belonging to the city while the construction of the stage and other preparatory work is in progress.
Indore is a city of contented, happy and culturally oriented people. There is a rich history of musical and dance concerts, theatre, lectures and numerous religious functions. Yet, Jannta Raja stayed more hearsay than a real play. People had heard from some relative or friend who had seen this MahaNaatya at Mumbai or Pune. It was matter of great challenge and responsibility to manage the resources necessary for its enactment. It was the son of erstwhile Deewan of the Holkar State, Mr. Palsikar, who rose to occasion and recruiting the enthusiasm and good offices of several interested citizens invited Baba Saheb Purandare to hold the show at Indore. All these Rasikas went about organising and managing the infrastructure, while Baba Saheb supervised the actual erection of stage and trained the local artistes. So pleased was the Historian cum Writer cum Director with their enthusiasm and eager receptivity of the audience that he announced his intention to translate and present the whole show in Hindi next year so that over fifty percent of the audience who sat on despite their inability to understand Marathi, should be able to comprehend the play fully.
The history of this ancient land is important as far as it serves as a reminder and guardian of its values. Jannta Raja is a milestone in this tradition, each of its staging being unique in this that every production has at least one episode that had not been staged earlier. Perhaps the next millennium would require more such productions to be able to restore the fast eroding human values to us.
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