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While growing up in Deur, a village in Dhulia district, Dhnanjay Khairnar regularly watched artistes performing Tamasha — a folk art from Maharashtra that is believed to be over 300 years old. In the last few years, as the art form lost some of its sheen and tamasha artistes struggled to keep it alive, Khairnar decided to make a documentary to highlight the subject.
Over six months ago, he began shooting Phad, (the Marathi word for a Tamasha troupe). While the first schedule of the film was shot in Sangamner, its Pune-based producer Sunil Chandurkar is raising money for the remaining schedule through a crowdfunding website. “The face of Tamasha, as an art form, has changed a lot over the past few decades. For example, just a decade ago, there were almost 20 big Tamasha troupes in the state. Today, only nine of them are left. The rest had to close down their phads due to mounting financial losses,” says Khairnar.
The roots of the distinctive folk form can be traced as far back as 250-300 years, says Khairnar. Tamasha gave birth to several talented artistes, who became very popular. “Unfortunately, today the artistes as well the art form are looked down upon by the society,” he says, adding that the tamasha that’s seen today is quite different from its original version.
Today, Tamasha is only about an artiste dancing on a song from a Marathi film or Bollywood; earlier it used to be a combination of various traditional art forms such as Batavani (questions and answers in a musical form); Gana Havanana (reciting mythological stories through music); Vaga (theatre) and Lavani (dance).
“All these elements are absent in the tamasha of today… after TV and films gained popularity… people stopped going for Tamasha performances. And gradually, the way Tamasha was performed also changed. There are very few senior artistes alive today. The younger generation doesn’t want to take it further. With the way things are going, half of the remaining few troupes will also close down in the next few years,” says Khairnar.
Every Tamasha troupe has nearly 150 members, including artistes, labourers, caterers, drivers and other staff. In a year, the troupes travel for as long as seven to eight months — from October to May — organising performances across the state.
Kantabai Satarkar, a senior tamasha artiste (75), who is featured in Phad, says, “Once we become a part of Tamasha, we do everything, from picking up props to setting up the stage, from putting our tents together to cooking for all the artistes. During our time, the audience was passionate about the art form… now, they don’t respect us.”
Chandurkar, the producer of Phad, says it “focuses on the lives of those artistes who have been performing for generations, and their struggle to gain the respect of society. This is a small attempt by us to change the perception of society towards these artistes and help them gain the same respect that is commanded by any artiste or human being”.