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A Long Journey

Wednesday, January 17, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Om Katare’s group Yatri completed 39 years this month, and the group’s anniversary is always an occasion to celebrate with a festival of plays.

This year’s festival had some old favourites like include 'Chinta Chhod Chintamani', 'Jeena Bhi Do Yaaron', 'Tillu Ki Dulhaniya', 'Raavenleela' the newer plays like 'Hum Paanch', 'Yeh Tera Dil Yeh Mera Dil' – 'Ek Prem Gatha' and children’s play, 'Magic If'.

Yatri was one of the groups that was formed in 1979, soon after Prithvi Theatre started in November 1978. Some of Yatri’s most popular plays have been comedies and among the best is the folk farce 'Ravanleela', written by Kusum Kumar.

In the old days, the nine-day 'Ramleelas' staged in towns and villages all over north India (Mumbai too) used to be done with a sense of devotion. In the play, the actor playing Raavan throws a tantrum over payment. In a break in the proceedings, the harried organizer brings on a dancing girl and invites the sponsor to make a speech. The audience (some actors seated amidst the actual audiences) throw tomatoes and 'bhindi' at the farce going on before them, and the man collects them in a basket, since vegetables are so expensive these days.

The costumes are deliberately ghastly, the actors are clowns, the play over the years (and more than 100 shows) is sharper and funnier and worth repeat viewings.

The other perennial is 'Chinta Chhod Chintamani', based on  Vasant Kanetkar’s Marathi play, a quaint family social that is not seen too much in Hindi theatre these days. Maybe that's why it got a encouraging response every time it is performed. Family audiences, enjoy the comedy that must have reflected their lives in some way. The beleaguered father of three grown-up kids (Katare), belongs to the 'sandwich' generation, who has to understand the quirks of his old parents, as well as the ambitions of his children.

Katare thinks that the audience identifies so much with this play, because in every home today, there is an aspiring actor, a wannabe cricketer, and maybe one kid on a pseudo-spiritual trip! Plus grandparents trying to make sense of a changing world.

Yatri is now a leading Hindi theatre group in the city, staging plays for grown-ups as well as children, and holding regular workshops. 39 years of doing theatre against many odds is a major achievement and neither Yatri nor Om Katare show any signs of slowing down.

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