Every year, almost 40 big and small tamasha (theatre) troupes from across Maharashtra gather at Narayangaon, a small town in Pune district located around 70 kms from the city. On a huge open plot of land, every group puts up their tents and advertise their respective groups. Throughout the day, representatives from various villages of Maharashtra throng the venue and indulge in striking deals wherein depending upon the village’s budget, they book a show by a particular tamasha troupe.
This year, however, due to drought situation in the state, the tamasha groups have recorded a fall of almost 40 per cent in the bookings. The annual fair begins every year around Holi and goes on for almost two months.
Raghuvir Khedkar, the owner of a 45-year-old theatre troupe named after him and his mother Kantabai Satarkar, says, “Tamasha commands high popularity in Marathwada and Khandesh, the two regions that are worst-hit by drought. People have suffered major losses in crop production and don’t want to spend money on entertainment. The number of bookings that we used to get earlier has reduced substantially. The cost of a ticket to our show is Rs 60 per person. While earlier we would get all members of the family attending the show, now it’s just one person from the family. Earlier, we would be booked for all the days. Now, there are days when we sitting idle.”
The shows, which are being held free-of-cost and do not require a ticket for entry, according to Khedkar, are attracting audience as usual. His troupe has 120 members, among them 60 artistes including actors, musicians and dancers.
The tamasha troupes that participate in the fair in Narayangaon every year travel from various parts of the states such as Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Nagar, Sangamner and Pune, among others. While small troupes have 10-20 members, bigger troupes can have 100-150 members. The small groups charge anything between Rs 60,000 to 70,000 for a show in a village while bigger ones charge Rs 1-1.5 lakh for a show. Narayangaon itself is famous for tamasha art and is home to numerous tamasha troupes.
Mangala Bansode (65), daughter of the famous tamasha artist Vithabai Narayangaonkar, who also won the President’s award for her contribution to the field of tamasha art, also runs a troupe that has 150 members. She too hails from Narayangaon.
Bansode says, “Chaitra and Baisakh are the only two months when we earn through these jatras (fairs) by travelling to different villages and holding drama and dance shows. The general practice is that the residents of a village, if they are interested in holding a show in their village, contribute an amount (vargani). The collected amount (called supari) is given to the tamasha troupe owners as their payment for performing a show.”
She says her troupe learnt at Narayangaon this year that several villages had not collected ‘vargani’ due to drought situation. “Earlier, we would hold nearly 60 shows in these two months, almost a show every day. Now, there are many days when we do not have shows and have to sit idle,” she says, adding that it will be difficult to pay salaries to her artistes and recover costs incurred such as rent of hired vehicles, food, lighting, sound system expenses and so on.
Bhika Bhima Dhavalpurikar, the owner of 40-year-old tamasha troupe, says, “I won’t say there’s no business. But yes, it isn’t what it used to be. There’s a fall of almost 30 to 35 per cent in the bookings. In the past too, we have faced losses, but not of this kind. Smaller the troupe, bigger the blow.”
According to Khedkar, for the past few years, the visual art business such as cinema, circus, theatre and tamasha have been bearing the brunt of introduction of television. “People can watch everything sitting at home. On top of it, every few years, there’s either drought or excess rain that indirectly affects our business,” he says.