Many say the best of Marathi sangeet nataks is behind us. Yet they have left an indelible mark and their influence can still be seen on contemporary Marathi films. We explored this landmark Marathi art form and unearthed a few timeless classics.
Pioneered by Vishnudas Bhave in 1840s, the Sangeet Nataks struck a chord with the people with Annasaheb Kirloskar’s Shaakuntal in 1880. What a goliath of a play it was with 209 musical pieces spread across in 7 acts! A new mix of Hindustani and Carnatic schools of Indian music, Shaakuntal brought the music from the courts of Princess to the hearts of the common folk.
Inspired by religious legends of the Puranas, this musical showcased how Krishna guided his sister, Subhadra, to marry Arjun, and not the other suitor- Duryodhana. This play pioneered the tradition of sangeet nataks, as Annasaheb Kirloskar started the convention where the actors themselves, not the sutradhar, sang.
Another famous one from the era, Sangeet Matsyagandha, tells the story of events leading up to the Mahabharatha. Penned by Vasant Kanetkar, the play explored the theme of complex relationships in families and rivalries among siblings. It’s based on the life of Satyawati, who after being betrayed at an early age by the sage Parashara, marries Shantanu – the King of Hastinapur.
Its story revolved around tales of bravery of its hero Dhairadhar. And also delves into the character’s romantic side – his love with Bhamini. Sangeet Mana Apmaan, written by Krushnaji Khadilkar, changed the trend of religious sangeet nataks, moving onto scenarios that captured the lives of the viewers themselves.
Written by playwright Govind Ballal Deval, Sangeet Sharda painted the picture of a geriatric widower trying to marry a teenage girl. Hailed to be the first musical play in Marathi to give a voice to social problems in our society at the time, it had a mind-boggling 95 songs (known as pada) spread across 5 acts, and had a profound impact on the society for several years.