Founder Members

Vishnudas Bhave

The pioneer of the Marathi theater. He laid the foundation by writing and performing the first Marathi play 'Seeta Swayamwar', on 5th Nov' 1843 as ordained by the king of Sangli.


The King, on seeing a few Kannada plays, felt like producing some in Marathi and shouldered the responsibility to Vishnudas Bhave, who ably saw it through. After losing the royal patronage, Bhave followed this profession of producing and presenting plays in Sangli, Pune and Mumbai till 1861.


The town of Sangli is therefore considered as the Mecca of the Marathi theater. The year 1843 birth-year; and 5th November is celebrated annually as the Marathi Theater Day.

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Moroba Wagholikar

The first generation actor of musical plays and an excellent singer, Moroba. Wagholikar was a minstrel (a religious singer) in his early career; who later joined a Tamasha group on being inspired by a Muslim tamasha artist named Dadu. Moroba had got a god-given gift of a very melodious and ringing voice and he was an excellent singer of the song-form called 'lavani'.


Around 1878 Moroba was under the patronage of a moneylender named Gulwe who gave Moroba 500 rupees as monthly salary. Gulwe also offered money to Annasaheb (Kirtoskar) for producing plays and allowed Moroba to join Annasaheb's drama company.


Moroba used to play Dushyanta in the musical play 'Shakuntal'. He used to sing 108 songs in it. In 'Soubhadra' he would be Arjun and looked handsome, stout and elegant in the role. Moroba had sparkling eyes and well-maintained physique.


He used to look after his own fitness and diet. He started the practice of burning 'Ood'-a fragnant incence before every show began. Moroba had invited Janglee Maharaj-a holy man, for the first show of his play 'Shakuntal'. Moroba requested Maharaj to sit in the first row, as his presence would ease out Moroba's tension.


Janglee Maharaj gave Moroba some 'Ood' and told him to burn it before the show began. Moroba burned it, mixing it with 'loban' and performed very well that evening. Since then all Marathi play performances began with this fragrant ritual.


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Dinkar Dhere (Kamanna)

Dinkar joined Kirloskar Natak Mandli in 1908, at the age of 7. His maternal uncle Krishnarao Kolhapure also worked in the Company since 1902. Dinkar started doing petty roles in the drama company. He used to sing well and played Bakul's role in 'Veer Tanay'.


After 1914 Dinkar went to NatyaVinod drama company and then in 1918 he joined his uncle's Balwant drama company. He used to play 'Uttar' in 'Veer Vidamban' very well. Balwant produced the play 'Bhavbandhan'on 18.10.1919.


The roles of Ghanashyam and Latika were played by Chintamanrao Kolhatkar and Master Dinanath respectively. The audiences enjoyed Dinkar's role of Kamanna greatly. The role fitted Dinkar so well that soon he was called by that pet­ name only.


Dinkar and Kamanna became synonymous. Dinkar continued playing the role for more than a decade and then left Balwant and worked in Hirabai Badodekar's drama group in 1933.


Dinkar earned similar fame and name in Marathi films also. He stepped onto stage once again in 1940. lnspite of not having received any formal school education, Dinkar's stage performances were always witty, humorous and full of presence of mind.


Many anecdotes of Dinkar's quick­ wittedness are well-known among people associated with the Marathi theatre.

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Chhota Gandharva

Damuanna Joshi, the owner of Balmohan Sangit Mandli - a drama group of young boys once discovered Saudagar Gore alias Chhota Gandharva from the town of Koregaon. Saudagar was gifted with very soft and silken voice. Balmohan produced and presented 'Pranapratishtha' on 22nd July 1928 in Vljayanand theatre for the first time. Saudagars' heavenly voice made Damuanna Joshi to refer to him as 'Chhota Gandharva' in the play's advertisements. The title was confirmed by the immense fanfare from the audience. 'Pranapratishtha' was followed by 'Swargawar Swari' and 'Kardankal' and 'Samshay Kallol'. Chhota Gandharva playing the role of Revati simply became a legend. Damuanna took special efforts to give Chhota Gandharva training In classical singing. He appointed Bagalkotkar buva for the job. Around 1930-31 Chhota Gandharva's voice cracked for a while; but was restored after a rest of 7-8 months.


The Marathl theatre faced severe economic recession around 1932-33. Many drama companies were on the verge of crash. Fortunately, Balmohan found a new, very gOOd playwright in tile form of Acharya P. K. Atre. On 10th May 1933 Balmohan produced Atre's, 'Sashtang Namaskar' in which Chhota Gandharva played the lady part of Tripuri. Later, of course, Chhota Gandharva played male roles only.


Saudagar acted in several of Balmohan's plays viz., 'Gharabaher' , ' Bhramacha Bhopla', 'Udyacha Sansar', 'Lagnachi Bedi', 'Vande Mataram' and 'Mi Ubha Aahe'. He proved Instrumental in Balmohan's success, fame and wealth. Damuanna appointed him in his drama company to teach high-class classical music. After 1950-51, Chhota Gandharva played major roles in 5 important and famous plays entitled 'Soubhadra', 'Manapaman', 'Mruchhakatik', 'Samshay Kallol' and 'Vidyaharan' for a period of about 25 years and literally ruled the hearts of the Marathi theatre lovers. In 1981, on the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Marathi musical theatre, Chhota Gandharva played roles in 'Mruchhakatik' and 'Soubhadra'; and then he retired from the stage.


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Balgandharva

Balgandharva inherited his inclination towards music from father, and dramatics from lhe maternal family. In 1908, Balgandharva joined Kirloskar Natak Mandli. He acted in 'Soubhadra', Tatyasaheb Kohlhatkar's 'Veer Tanay', 'Mook Nayak', 'Mativikar' and 'Prem Shodhan'. Solely for the sake of Balgandharva's sweet, melodious voice Talyasaheb was tempted to write a musical play. Kirloskar Natak Mandli produced 'Manapaman' a musical play written by Kolhatkar with great pomp and show on 12/3/1911.


The musical compositions in this play broke away from the tradition and relying more on classical base of 'Khyal'; became greatly popular. In 1913, Balgandharva, Bodas and Tembe broke away from Kirloskar Natak Mandli and set up a new company - Gandharva Natak Mandli on 5/7/1913. Within two months only, on 3/2/1913 'Mook Nayak' was produced. On 10/12/1916 Khadlikar's musical play 'Swayamwar' was enacted on the stage.


The play earned great fame and popularity for Balgandharva. Ram Gadkari's 'Ekach Pyala' also proved to be a great 'hit'. Gandharva Natak Mandli was burdened by a huge heap of loan because of a disastrous failure of the play named 'Droupadi'.


By 1926, Balgandharva repaid the entire loan with great efforts. Around 1933, the talking film had made an entry and the fate of the Marathi theatre was in doldrums. Balgandharva closed down his drama company on 1/1/1935 and joined films. But could not put his heart into films.


Along with Goharbai, he reappeared on the stage and delighted audiences. filling the vacuum created by Bhaurao Kolhatkar's absence. Melodious singing, very good knowledge of rhythm made Balgandarva becomes a legend on the Marathi stage, which had no parallel.


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