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Tamasha: A forgotten folk-art

I am proud to be a Maharashtrian. Not that I am an ardent supporter of Raj Thackarey and his bunch of fools who have just once again declared that Mumbai is only for ‘Maharashtrians’(May be they are living in a make believe world where they have discarded the Indian Constitution). Maharashtra has a rich culture especially in terms of arts and entertainment. It is a land of entertainment and no wonder Bollywood resides in Bombay. Maharashtrian people have been known to nurture their culture and hold their language close to their heart. If you happen to be in Pune sometimes, you will know what it means to be in Pune and not know how to speak Marathi.

Just as ‘Bhavai’ is the folk lore of Gujarat, ‘Tamasha’ is that of Maharashtra. It has been preserved as a custom and as an integral part of the lives of people in villages now for many years. It consists of drama, songs, recreation, entertainment, fun. It is more satirical than any other form of folk art. If you compare it with bhavai, you will notice that bhavai has a stronger social message. I had the unique opportunity of witnessing a bhavai in action in Tarapur village near Vadodara where bhavai was performed by the villagers themselves. The interesting thing was the religious connotations attached to it and it lasted for three days beginning late in the evening and continuing the whole night as well as in the wee hours of the morning. Since, traditionally women were not allowed to participate in this folk lore form, it was men who performed the role of women and the same tradition continues today also. The bhavai that we see in cities during cultural events and drama competitions is an urbanized version with characters of ‘ranglo’, ‘rangli’ and ‘vidushak’ bringing in the comic element with a social message. The same is not to be found in a bhavai performed in a village.

What has inspired me to write about Tamasha is a movie based on the same - ‘Natarang’. It is a marathi film that talks about this folk art and its varied hues in the villages of 1970s Maharashtra. Tamasha includes ‘Lavani’, a popular song form of Maharashtra which has seen its revival through this movie. The main theme of the movie revolves around the stigmatized character of ‘Nachya’… a male who actually performs the role of female. This character unlike the one in bhavai is very integral to the performance but at the same time, it has been shown as a stigmatized one. In the villages of Maharashtra, anyone who took up the role of ‘Nachya’ was looked down upon by the society to the extent of being considered gay and transgender when the fact is that the person who essayed this role is actually a normal being who is just passionate about the form of art.

The role of ‘Nachya’ in the film has been performed by Atul Kulkarni and he is perfect when it comes to adopting the mannerisms of a woman. Thee film has also showcased politics that goes in activities of culture and art and how hard artists try to fight those.

Folk lores are the heritage of our nation and they ought to be promoted and preserved. Also I am happy to see that Marathi cinema is really coming of age. Marathi films are getting better day by day. I can proudly say that Marathi cinema is the best in regional cinema after may be Bengali and Malayalam films. Kudos to the new generation of artists and hope Marathi films achieve great heights. Waiting for ‘Harshchandrachi Factory’!!!

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