Annasaheb Kirloskar

From PhalkeFactory

'Annasaheb' Balwant Pandurang Kirloskar was born in Dharwad in 1843. He came to Pune to study, developed a interest in theatre and in working out of mythologicals.. but he gave up that interest and returned to Dharwad. He failed his law exam, but took up other jobs.. before he returned to theatre.

He wrote one complete play- based on Shankracharya's conquests, before he began adapting Kalidas's Shakuntala, into the kind of spectacle he admired in Parsee theatre. The Kirloskar Natak Mandali formed by him in Belgaum, performed the first four acts to resounding success and then shifted to Pune where they performed the whole play in 1880.This performance is marked as the beginning to the Sangeet Natak tradition in Marathi theatre. The Kirloskar Company is also blessed by the contribution of Anandrao Painter who is making masterly backdrops for the plays.

Two years later, he wrote Sangit Saubhadra - a musical about Subhadra, Krishna's sister. And how Krishna helps her to marry the man she wants to marry- Arjun, rather than her other suitor- Duryodhana.

He started the convention where the actors themselves, not the sutradhar, sang. He intergrated music and theatre, and brought in traditions of music from Persian and traditions of plot and atmosphere from English theatre.

He dies young in 1885, but his theatre company, especially with the plays of Deval and Kolhatkar, had great success for the next thirty years or so. Bal Gandharva, 'Master' Krishnarao, Govindrao Tembe, Ganesh Bodas, Dinanath Mangeshkar, all toured with it.

An outing to the theatre in the bigger cities- becomes more common among Maharashtrians. A new kind of song is emerging on stage.. high pitched, sung by the actor, deriving from eclectic sources. This is going to change the tastes of the general public and is also going to infuriate many puritans, including the codifiers of Indian art music- Bhatkhande and Paluskar.

New conventions of drama, the "once more" routine, which changes the conventions of western theatre that are being played with... "Once more" enactments, where performers might repeat part of the drama that the audience is going wild over and demanding to see again- means a temporary freezing of dramatic progress, a holding back of dramatic impact. (Ashok Ranade) Perhaps the audience is used to this from other traditional forms, but what it also means is proscenium theatre is being changed, experimented upon in this cultural encounter.

This popular form draws from mythologicals, the opera.. It begins to get great social popularity and sanction. The who's who of Bombay society- come to watch the Bombay performance of Shakuntal..R.G Bhandarkar, Justice K.T. Telang. Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar writes in the Kesari in 1881- that this is pioneering a new opera like production. Professor Keelhorn of the Deccan College sees the Pune performance and says he is overwhelmed by the realism of the production!

Businessman get interested. Around August 1880, Vithoba K/ Gulve came forward to be the financier producer of Shakuntal. He was a businessman. Later he drew up rules and regulations to manage the affairs of the mandali.

Famous actors joined in- Moroba Vagholikar, well known in music and tamasha circles and Balkoba Natekar, a trained and established classical artist. Many staff members from the Revenue Commissioner's office, where Kirloskar has a job, also join in to play small parts.

Triklokeshvar tries to wean this new form away form mythologicals and do more stories centered around women and around the desirability of romantic love.

Many practitioners of other disciplines, writers, singers.. come towards Sangeet Natak, looking for livelihoods.

As the industry grows, notation books, gramaphone records of performances will come into popular demand.

Subhadra was a character from Arjun Subhadra, which told the story of how Krishna enabled his sister to marry her choice of lover, Arjuna, and not the mean eyed Duryodhana who was eyeing her.

Subhadra was played by fifteen year old Ganesh, fair skinned, light eyed, plump armed.

The character Subhadra was a princess, well off enough to have a play composed on her, and as though in a respectful and humble understanding of why she is one stage, the character has worn all manners of jewels to please the watching eyes. And she soprrows, how she sorrows in a high sad pitch, holding out her arms from time to time in a gesture beseeching fate to heed her pleas and not get her married to Duryodhana. The audience starts clapping spontaneously as her saree clad voice numbly runs up a ladder into the skies.

Ganesh lets their applause recede a bit and then starts again, repeating the song and Subhadra's pain, both of which seem much loved. Dressed in a Punheri saree in a resplendent blue, she sings standing before the an almost edible palace, a feast for the eyes. Pillars of pink trimmed with a delicate blue recede in the distance. The floor is tiled in mosaics of two alternating colours. A row of glass lamps break the space every few pillars. Subhadra in her vestments looks like she might walk into that landscape, beyond the pillars behind her, any moment, to grieve her secret sorrow somewhere far from human eyes.

In fact when the the curtain comes down, that is exactly what the audience feels she must have done.

Professor Keelhorn cannot stem the surprise he feels at what he had just seen, the grandeur of the backdrops, the energy of the singing, the story that is so evident from the arrangement of actors on stage, from their broad gestures, from the tone of the music. He feels happy. It has been a good evening. "Just one thing" he tells Sheila "that I would like to tell them. This one strange thing. If people like a piece of dialogue or song, the audience goes into thunderous applause- and then- " he threw his hands up helplessly "these people just repeat that dialogue, or sing that song again.. I mean... don't they see it? It quite kills the growing emotion in the "he is at a loss to describe the mesh of things, detrimental things, that he felt sure it must be doing to the reception of the play. "Why would you want to isolate a part of the performance and repeat it like that- like it is something- something- mechanical"

If he only looked closer, on the edges of the newspapers, already, machines were being advertised that were promising to give the consumer the power to do exactly that to the human voice- select a section, repeat it, by scratching a stylus over a disc.

Indian 'art' music, classical music, is meant to be particular about when it was sung. A particular raga at a particular time. Whose time should it keep in natya sangeet? The time of the performance, or the time within the performance- the time within the story of the play? And then to hear such abbreviated forms of the raga, not unfolding, just compressed to serve as a pleasurable interlude in a longer story..Not to mention that obscene pitch that sounds like it is coming from the netherworlds of the performer's anatomy.

The critic in the audience, the conoisseur of classical music who has come to see how singers were taking to this new stage, fumes at this. This, for him, is the beginning of a grievous untidiness. One serious looking man is overheard grumbling loudly at a literary meeting.

Annasaheb is eating jamuns backstage, on his Ayurvedic doctor's advice, when some young boys from the troupe come in to worriedly confer with him. He listens as they report what the old man has said, and as he listens, he eats up larger quantities of the fruit. The boys report later that when he laughed carelessly at the end of their complaint, they saw that legendary mouth open into a foul looking purple cave.

His hand just waves the critic away in a sweep and he turns to his faithful barber " Sing that song again, re!" A song of the Parsee theatre starts, well learnt by the shaukeen barber and Annasaheb goes into ecstacy. " I say we render this tune for when Subhadra wanders alone in the palace garden.. and make it come closer to Raag Kalavati" he clapped his hands. "Next time, don't tell me what serious looking old men say" he tells the boys. " Tell me how many mouths repeat the songs that are sung on stage. Then I'll know how many are coming to see the play again"

the invocation to his Shakuntal