Telling traveller’s tales…

Theatre wallahs look back on 25 years of Yatri’s journey


Hadh Kar Di Aapne

Any organisation which has survived for 27 years is a proof of it’s own success,” says Pandit Satyadev Dubey, theatre director, actor and legend about Yatri reaching it’s silver jubilee festival this year.
The group was founded in 1979 by Om Katare and friends who wanted not to attach themselves to other theatre companies , but create their own enterprise. “We didn’t have any goals or great thoughts on theatre then,” reminisces Katare, “We just wanted to stay connected to the medium.” It was only three years hence however that Katare devoted all his energies to theatre, despite opportunities in TV and film. “Maybe it was entering Prithvi that inspired me,” he laughs, “we used to spend most of our time there and the atmosphere was infectious.” Since then Yatri has had 53 produc
tions, 24 theatre festivals, 20 theatre workshops and 4,400 shows. Varying between slapstick comedy of the likes of Hadh Kar Di Aapne and serious dramas like Kaal Chakra has landed Katare the Maharasthriya Hindi Sahitya Academy Award for his contribution to theatre.
Makarand Deshpande, theatre director and playwright, notes that Katare started during the ‘golden era of Indian theatre’ (think Safdar Hashmi, Utpal Dutt, Kaifi Azmi, IPTA). “It was a time when cable didn’t exist and there were fewer films in the market, so performances revolved around theatre,” Deshpande opines , “Katare belongs to that generation. They must have really enjoyed themselves.” Katare after his famous performance of Sakharam Binder (the first in Hindi), went on to translate many great Marathi plays. While Deshpande feels that a lot of Yatri’s humour is “gallery hu
mour”, he credits him with taking chances with plays like Kaal Chakra – “It’s an emotionally heavy play. Maybe it was his interest as an actor in the characters of the play that made him place his bets on a deeper script, even for a commercial venture.” All the same, Deshpande feels Katare has to get together some “solid talent in terms of actors”. “Actors in theatre can’t be ok. they have to be phenomenal,” he emphasises.
Playwright and director Ramu Ramanathan feels Katare’s greatest achievement is that he’s running a theatre repertory in this day and age. “It shows he has an eye and ear for management,” Ramanathan explains, “It’s very difficult to keep people together in a theatre group today.” He also suggests Yatri do at least five classics in Hindi in the next 10 years – “Like Gorky’s Lower Depths or Ibsen’s Ghosts maybe”.
Director Mujeed Khan who’s putting up a series of platforms for this festival has known Katare for years. “Like Shafi Inaamdar, Om’s strength as a director is his ability to present a play which was written in another language, and make it look like it was originally written in that language,” he sums up.
Actress Paromita Chatterjee, who will be playing a major role in almost each Yatri play this festival has been with the group for the last three years, but has been Katare’s neighbour and critic for long before that. “I feel the quality of our productions has really grown through the years,” she comments, “But we should explore other genre like musicals and subtle satire.”

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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