ON weekends in the run-up to Diwali every year, Shivaji Mandir in Dadar wears a festive look as people queue up at the box office and new plays are premiered. This season for Marathi plays goes on till January. However, this November, Mumbai’s most popular venue for staging of Marathi plays resembles an old, abandoned building, says veteran make-up artist Chander Patil.
“In the days since PM Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, business in Marathi theatre has taken a hit. As a result, the premieres of a few plays, scheduled between November and December, have been put on hold and many regular shows have been cancelled,” says Patil, who has been forced to stay at home as the market is down.
Vijay Kenkre is among those whose play premieres have been postponed. His production, titled Teen Paayachi Sharyat (Three-legged race), was to open on November 19 but has been tentatively rescheduled for first half of December. “Since Marathi theatre largely runs on cash economy, we are currently unable to pay the backstage workers and also the actors, who work on daily wages. Our ticket sales, too, have plummeted because people don’t have cash to spend,” says Kenkre, adding that the reason Marathi theatre hasn’t yet moved to card or online transaction is because a large part of their audience are walk-in daily wagers.
Like Kenkre, Mangesh Kadam has also pushed the premiere of his play, Chada, which was scheduled to open early November. Although unsure of how it will do even now, he opened it last weekend. “Close to 15 plays premiere in this season every year. It’s the season for cultural events. Also, by opening now, the producers can send their plays for various competitions that begin in January,” explains Prasad Kambli, head of Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Natya Parishad, governing body for Marathi theatre. He adds that the number will be down to seven or so this year. Kambli says overall business is down by nearly 80 per cent. Some producers are attempting to migrate to other modes of payment such as mobile wallets or cards. “But that will take time. Also, it might alienate the audience that doesn’t have bank accounts or cards,” points out Patil.
Last week, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis announced that the old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 will be accepted by venues as rent. The move is an attempt to aid the crisis being faced by Marathi theatre. Kambli believes it will help theatrewallahs, who may have old currency sitting with them from previous shows. However, the implementation is yet to begin. “It’s stuck somewhere in the red tape. The government resolution has not reached the theatres yet for them to accept old currency,” he says. Kenkre adds that this initiative will also aid only a handful of theatres, which are governed by the BMC as the others accept rent in cheque or demand draft.