Theatres – Redefining Culture

The city of Pune has been the perfect blend of the past and the present. On one hand, factors such as growth in IT sector and urbanization are making Pune one of the fastest developing cites of the country while on the other hand the Ganapati festival, Savai Gandharva mahotsav, dance, drama and music revive the glory of the city’s cultural heritage.

Performing arts such as those of drama, music and dance have been an indispensable part of Pune’s culture. Theatre is the platform through which these art forms have been enhanced. Pune’s audience doesn’t look theatre just as an entertainment medium; it is more of a tradition, which has been passed down as a legacy from one generation to another.

The two most prominent theatres – Bharat Natya Mandir and Tilak Smarak Mandir- are located in the one of the oldest parts of the city. These theatres are alive because of dedicated artists, social workers, philanthropists and above all an admiring audience. Each of them has their own significant role in discovering hidden talents and bringing them in front of common man.

Bharat Natya Mandir, situated in Sadashiv Peth, was built in 1970. However, the initiative had been taken long back during the British rule in 1894. Usually children who refrained from studies were the ones who took part in dramas. However, this trend changed when a group of students formed “Students Social Club” at a local high school with the permission of their parents and teachers. The first one act play performed by the students was the Marathi version of “Hamlet” and thus began the process of molding the hidden “performers” within individuals which has been followed traditionally till today.

Soon after independence, the organization was re-named as “Bharat Natya Sanshodhan Mandir” after the name of Bharat Muni who had written Natya Shastra nearly 2000 years ago. Performances were held in a tent like formation till the year 1970, when a concrete structure was built. This might be one of the few such theatres in our country whose basic motive is not to commercially publicize arts, but rather to bring amateur artists together for the proliferation of drama, music and dance.

Bharat Natya Madir is not just a theatre, but also a learning center. The library of the trust has a collection of over nearly 10,000 books on Marathi drama. Research activities are also undertaken by the trust and neear10-15 people have completed their PhD within these premises. Renowned dignitaries such as Prime Minister Chandrashekhar and Narsimha Rao visited the theatre and appreciated the work undertaken by the organization. At present, drama competitions like Purushottam Karandak and Kamgar Kalyan are held at the theatre. Nearly 150 girls are learning Kathak at the dance classes held at the theatre and 10-15 students learning singing and Tabla. The theatre holds great worthiness as it has endeavored in making the knowledge of various art forms feasible to the common people.

Unlike Bharat Natya Mandir, Lok. Tilak Smarak Mandir was established in the memory of freedom struggler Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and not with an intention to promote Performing arts. The Tilak Memorial Committee in Jan 1923 finalized the scheme to raise a memorial of Tilak in Pune as Pune had been his “karmabhoomi”. The basic idea was to raise a building hall, establish a library and celebrate Tilak’s death anniversary annually. The committee raised an amount of Rs. one lakh for the same purpose. Late Jagganath Pandit extended donated his “Bangla Baug” on the west of S.P College, for the Mandir. As the years passed, the Mandir became a center for all political, religious movements in Pune.

In 1952, an exhibition of national literature and the photographs of revolutionaries were held in the premises. The Mandir played a vital role in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement too. Under the visionary guidance of Shri Jayantrao Tilak, the grandson of Lokmanya Tilak, enhancement of the Mandir took a new turn. The initiative of reconstruction and renovation of the Mandir was first proposed by Jayantrao. With the backing of the trustees complemented with contribution from many state governments, industries, banks and philanthropists, this idea could gain momentum. Towards the beginning of the year 1975, the task was accomplished and the new building was inaugurated by Smt. Indira Gandhi. The building now had a Tilak Museum, an auditorium erected in contemporary style which had a capacity of 900 seats.

At present the Mandir mainly focuses on the promotion of cultural programmes rather than dramas. Lecture series, meetings of secondary schools, Sugam Sangeet and Classical Music programmes are held here. Various dance groups also conduct their dance performances at the Mandir and other times, dramas are featured. Dramas include mostly Marathi but English and Hindi dramas are also featured occasionally.

Both these theatres have their own distinctive place in making the culture of Pune praiseworthy. Even though the new forms of entertainment have become popular, people of Pune have undoubtedly re-defined their culture through theatres and thus they have and will always be an unforgettable part of their past!