Nipun Dharmadhikari | 28
Category: Art & Culture
For Nipun Dharmadhikari, the world is a stage. Quite literally. Founder of the Pune-based theatre outfit, Natak Company, the 28-year-old is best-known for reviving century-old sangeet-nataks (musical dramas)— long, five-act plays performed through the night in Shakespearean tradition —that were lost on contemporary theatre-goers.
These plays have been received warmly not only in the Marathi theatre circuit but also at festivals in the US and at Bharat Rang Mahotsav (the prestigious theatre festival of Delhi’s National School of Drama). The unassuming director, though, cedes credit to the rich, nostalgic value of the sangeet-nataks. “I think the songs did it. They are evergreen and that is what the audience enjoys most,” he says.
Natak Company, which Dharmadhikari set up in 2009, is self-funded and self-managed. The 50-member unit scripts, enacts, directs, produces and stages shows by itself. “We wanted to explore theatre and not be driven by the commerce of it,” he says.
His experimental work gets a strong vote of confidence from eminent theatre personality Raell Padamsee. She says, “Nipun has many strings to his bow. His dynamism deserves accolades. Actor, director, producer… all extremely challenging tasks. And to then excel on a global platform adds to the level of achievement.”
Prior to finding his feet in professional theatre, Dharmadhikari was a name to reckon with in Pune’s vibrant amateur theatre circuit. Born in a strictly academic, non-cultural household, he joined Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce “because it was well-known for its cultural activities”. In 2003, he started acting in plays for Purushottam Karandak, Pune’s coveted inter-collegiate theatre competition.
“I was almost forced into direction because our seniors had passed out,” he says. He debuted with Cycle, a play based on a story by Marathi writer Vyankatesh Madgulkar. That won all the awards and “suddenly became a big deal”. Says Dharmadhikari: “We hadn’t crafted it for a win. But it turned out very well. People were inviting us to perform. Our association with Samanvay [an experimental theatre group in Pune] helped us get 25 shows in 10 months.”
He followed it up with Lose Control that dealt with the sexual fantasies of three teenagers. It was a bold subject for conservative Pune. “Cycle was a homely and harmless play. But this made our families unhappy,” he says. It was only when film and theatre personalities made a beeline for Lose Control that Dharmadhikari started to be taken seriously.