“I don’t earn much from it. I find other sources of income to survive, but I do this. I do this, not because I want something out of it or because the activists say that it needs to be saved, but it is the only thing that makes me feel alive. Yes, I am selfish and that’s why I am doing it. My kids are not…” and his eyes express the rest. One can see this pain, the helplessness, in the eyes of any Tamasha artist.
Almost like Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh, Tamasha is also another folk theatre form which is in the hands of its last generation. Similar to Nautanki Tamasha also includes theatrical performances, storytelling and is influenced by various dance forms, which eventually lost their place in this amazing art form. Only, Lavni dance managed to survive in its performances till now, but in a very subtle form. Similar to Nautanki, Tamasha doesn’t require any stage or setting as well. It can be performed at any square or in an open area. Mostly performed in villages, Tamasha has its origin back in the Peshwa regime of the Maratha Empire.
Experts say that it is one of the toughest art forms to pursue, as artists take around 210 days out of 365 days of a year to travel all over the State (Maharashtra) and perform a play every night during the season.
Recently, a young filmmaker from Maharashtra, Dhnanjay Khairnar took the responsibility to bring out the current status of Tamasha and their artists. He is making a documentary on the same subject with the name ‘Phad’, which showcase the struggle, hard work, and sacrifices for the Tamasha artist and this fading art form.
According to him, Tamasha was a very rich art form but has lost its elements over the course of time and now it is just the name which people remember for this Maharashtrian folk art. In its latest avatar, it’s all about Bollywood songs and stories and is not better than an orchestra.
According to Dhnanjay, the number of Tamasha troupes or ‘Phad’ as he calls has declined in the last decade. The number came down from 450 to under 150 in overall Maharashtra and the artists have reduced to mere 3500 from 12000 in the last 10 years.
Dhnanjay gives a few reasons to understand why this art form is on a decline. The first reason that he found out talking to Phad artists is the lack of government support. In comparison to a movie in the Marathi language, Tamasha troupes get very less support and lesser subsidy. The second reason is the lack of audience.
He says, “The audience has changed with time. With multiple options for entertainment through the internet, there are few takers of this folk art even in rural areas. The younger audience is just not interested.” The artists of this community also lack respect from the society.The bold topics and dialogues used by Phad artists are considered as an entertainment of the lower class. Then there is a dearth of good artists as well. Very few young artists perform Phad and the good ones are always eager to try their luck in TV or Bollywood or a more stable and better paying job. There are only a few left from the older generation who are passionate about the art form and willing to do Tamasha till they can manage. They are fighting hard so that the art can survive. For them, it’s not just a source of living, but the source of life.
(The writer is the founder of the Lakshyajeet Theatre Group and a researcher in the folk art)