AMONG the many anecdotes associated with the life of renowned tamasha artiste Vithabai Narayangaonkar, the most popular one dates back to the time when she was at the peak of her career and enjoyed immense popularity among tamasha enthusiasts. The story goes that Narayangaonkar was in the last month of her pregnancy when, while performing in a tamasha show, she went into labour. While her fellow artistes continued performing, she went backstage and delivered the child on her own, without any doctor or midwife. Soon, according to stories about her life, she was back on stage for a performance, as the crowd cheered and whistled for her.
Vitha, a Marathi play that will be staged at the Bharat Natya Mandir on Sunday at 9 pm, traces the journey of Narayangaonkar, a two-time Presidential award winner, and her unparalleled dedication towards the art form she excelled in. She was awarded medals by the President of India, in 1957 and 1990, for her contribution towards tamasha.
Presented by the Hindustan Theatre Company, the play is written by Om Bhutkar and directed by Shantanu Ghule.
“I had read Vithabai’s story nearly eight years ago. A few years ago, Shantanu (Ghule) visited me with the book and asked me to write a play based on her story. Though I had read the story earlier, I read it again. Given that I had grown as an individual and an artiste with the years, the way I interpreted things mentioned in the book, when I read it the second time, was different than how I interpreted them the first time,” said Bhutkar, whose previous plays include Mi Ghalib and Manaswini Murder Case.
“What struck me about her personality was her brazen attitude about life. It’s unfortunate that despite her fame and dedication to art, an artiste of her stature died alone and was in financial distress during the last few years. Shantanu provided me other research material too, like recordings and video clippings. All this helped me write the play Vitha,” he added.
Ghule, the director, said while it was difficult to encompass Narayangaonkar’s life in a 100-minute play, he decided to keep the focus on the late artiste’s love, passion and commitment for tamasha and tamasha artistes. “When she was young, she received many offers for films, but she refused because had she joined films, her tamasha troupe, the source of livelihood for many artistes, would have collapsed”.
The play also depicts how Narayangaonkar’s husband, Maruti Sawant, was the cause of all the miseries in her life.”He would take all the money she earned through her shows and would beat her up,” said Ghule.
He added that as the play dealt with the life of a tamasha artiste, it also featured live music and dance. The cast also includes Dharana Pandit as Vithabai and Ghule himself, who will play Narayangaonkar’s husband. Other artistes are Sanjay Kumar Narnale, Harsh Raut, Sudhir Phadtare, Kumar Jadhav, Sunil Dongar and Kamesh Lande.