For the last 28 years, every Diwali morning, Mumbaikars have been treated to a grand Diwali Pahat performed by Ashok Hande’s troupe Chaurang. Hosted at Dinanath Mangeshkar Natyagruha Hall in Vile Parle, the early morning show is a special Diwali feature. Recalling the origin of the event, Hande, a stage director, writer, actor and singer, says, “We were to perform a show ‘Mangalgani Dangalpani’ in Pune, but no theatre was available in the evening. So we decided to have the show early in the morning. That was the first time we performed in the morning and it was a hit. We decided to continue it every year since it was a great way to start a festive day.”
The show starts at 6.30 am, but the crew works through the night. Once the last show for the day is over at the auditorium, the backstage staff take over and begin work to prepare the stage. “The work backstage begins around 12.30 am and goes on till 4 am. Everything from the lights, the props to the sound system are set up by then. Around 30 backstage artistes are at work through the night,” says Shailendra Mhatre, who heads the backstage arrangements and has been a part of Chaurang for 22 years now.
The artistes even remove the wings of the stage since the performance requires a 30×50 feet space. Various levels are then created on the stage to make designated areas for musicians and other artistes. Props are set up for the acts and 100 lights are set up to light up the stage. An hour before the performance, the sound balancing is checked by the sound engineers and the final placement for dancers is chalked out. Meanwhile, another group works to decorate the auditorium with traditional lanterns, lamps and rangolis.
Since 2005, Chaurang has been performing ‘Marathi Bana’, a cultural extravaganza that displays different aspects of Marathi culture from Lavani and Povada to bhajan kirtan.
“This Diwali, we completed 1922 shows of Marathi Bana. Ever since the first show on November 1, 2005, it has almost always been houseful. While we perform it through the year, on Diwali it is a special show and we make suitable changes to it. The pahat was houseful four days before the show,” added Hande.
The Diwali pahat also binds the community together. “People from all walks of life come together all dressed up for the show. It is a beautiful way to begin a festive day with music and dance,” said Pramod Sohoni, who has been playing the tabla for Chaurang since 1990.