Zadipatti: Rural India’s Broadway

An elaborate cast, seasoned actors, exacting audiences.


A liberal sprinkling of songs, improbable twists and turns, Story lines that often border melodrama.

A makeshift stage, a temporary tent, country fair atmosphere, cheap tickets.

Broadway? Bollywood? Traveling theater?

None of these. But may be all of them. This is Zadipatti.

***
For me, it starts with an unpleasant bus ride. And it’s dark when I reach Kanpa, a highway village 83 km from Nagpur. While I wait for a pick-up, people stare. The light-less road ahead is to take me to Shankarpur, where the season’s last show of ‘Bhikari’ will be staged.

Bhikari (beggar) is a Zadipatti drama. And Zadipatti — which roughly translates as forest culture — is a 150-year-old folk theater form. It has been a rarely reported part of the rural social life in four districts of Vidarbha — Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Gondia and Chandrapur. Mandals in 3,000 villages stage an almost equal number of shows of about 150 dramas throughout the five-month-long Zadipatti season that kicks off every year around Diwali (October) and goes up to March or April.

It may sound informal — actors say there’s no such thing as a director, or rehearsals for that matter, in Zadipatti theater. But make no mistake, some of these actors here pass up roles in films or plays in Mumbai and Pune to perform here. By the end of the season, they go home with their pockets full. It is said that Zadipatti is Vidarbha’s best-kept cultural secret, and an audition of sorts for other acting mediums: you succeed here and there’s little chance you’ll fail anywhere else. I’m intrigued.

******
The jeep crunches to a halt on the gravel road. And out hops a man who is flamboyance itself: a mop of long curly hair, flashy clothes, a gutkha-stained (betel nut) mouth. This is Sheshrao Mohurle, who’ll act in tonight’s play. Handshakes done, I sit in the taxi. My co-passengers are Zadipatti actors too, all performing tonight. As the jeep lurches forward, the cast continues its singing session that was interrupted by the brief halt. As one person starts singing, others join in, in melodious chorus. It’s a beautiful sound, this facile harmony in their voices. A little while later, they’ll have to recreate the same magic in front of a thousand people. They look ready.

******
As the jeep moves towards the destination I see lot of people on foot, cycles, bullock carts, motorcycles moving in the same direction. The jeep stops in front of a huge tent with a makeshift stage for today’s performance. As the cast gets down from the jeep there is a loud cheer from the crowd to welcome the actors.

I am sitting backstage with the actors sipping on cloyingly sweet tea (I am not a tea drinker, but when you visit Indian villages, you never say ‘no’ to hospitality) and trying to get all the interesting information. The actors immediately busy themselves getting ready and putting on makeup in the light of the only light bulb in the temporary green room.

Acting forms are dictated by what the ‘public’ wants. And Zadipatti, more so. All dramas are staged at night. And they last the entire night. Here’s one of the reasons why. Years ago, farmers from a 20-km radius used to converge at a largish village to sell the cotton they had grown through the year or to participate in a bullock cart race and so on. They would have to make a night halt at the village. The host villagers could fix dinner for the hundreds of guests, but lodging was an insurmountable problem. So, what would they do? Stage a drama that would keep the guests awake — and entertained — throughout the night! That tradition is alive till date. Another reason for Zadipatti to become popular is that it’s also a great place for social interaction and bonding. Many marriages are solemnized as the dramas play out. Families of boys and girls meet and many marriages are finalized during these five months.

“The trick is not to make the drama look long-drawn out,” says Shyam Mohril, 42, who says he has been acting in Zadipatti dramas since he was six years old. The drama is, therefore, interspersed with songs and on-the-spot improvisations that keep the audience interested. “As an actor, you must gauge the audience’s mood and expectation instantly. The viewers are exacting: if you so much as miss a beat or forget a line in a song, they make it a point to come backstage and chastise you. We’re talking about illiterate people here, but they know entire musicals by heart. It’s pretty astounding,” he says, as he puts on bright make up. He’s playing a servant in tonight’s play — something like the buffoon and Harlequin in classical plays. “The dramas have to be over the top, just as the audiences like it. You see, they have no other source of amusement. They watch the drama for one night. This entertainment should last them the entire year, till they watch another drama,” he explains.

Adds Pradeep Bidkar, who has written 25 dramas in the last 14 years: “The drama is like a festival here. When a drama is to be staged in a village, the dates are announced about a month in advance. The common villager starts saving up for this big day, when he will have guests from the neighboring villages. The anticipation is strong and the expectations high. It’s a lot of pressure.”

But Bidkar has handled the pressure well: he claims to have given Zadipatti theater a whole new genre — the social or family drama. Dramas based on mythological, historical or musical themes are also staged. In fact, so successful was one of Bidkar’s dramas, it’s unofficially called Zadipatti’s ‘Sholay’ (the most popular Indian film ever. If inflation is factored, Sholay is also the highest grossing film of all time in India. British Film Institute’s poll mentions it as the “Top 10 Indian Films” of all time.). All this adulation keeps him going, he says.

Meanwhile, Sheshrao, the actor and our contact, introduces the rest of the cast to us. One of them is Devendra Dodke from Nagpur. Devendra was in a transport agent for nine years before he started acting. Having studied Russian and American theater for nine years, he is one of the sizable chunk of professional actors performing in Zadipatti. He has acted in Marathi and Hindi films and directed the big guns of Marathi entertainment — Ashok Saraf, Laxmikant Berde, Vijay Kadam and so on. “Zadipatti is unlike anything else. Many professional and successful actors have tried their hand here, but most of them have been failures. The audience wants what it wants, irrespective of who is performing,” he says.

The mood is relaxed — this is the 60th show of the drama and everyone is well-versed with what they are supposed to say and do on the stage. “But during the first three or four shows, everyone backstage is memorizing their lines, like they are preparing for an exam,” says Shyam Mohril. Now, he jokes around with the other cast members and takes a nap. Then suddenly, it’s showtime.

I take a peek at the audience and they all seem to be ready for the night. I decide to join the village sitting in the auditorium which is really an open space enclosed and covered with a thick Cloth. It’s a full house – more than a thousand people. On a good day, a drama group gets a booking amount of anywhere between Rs 30,000 to Rs 1.75 lakh. The village’s organizers, in turn, recovers almost twice as much through ticket sales which are priced between Rs 10 to Rs 60. The total turnover for an entire season is mind-boggling — Rs 10 million, according to one estimate.

Zadipatti theatre also gives work to a lot of youths: from playwrights to artists to musicians and even tea-stall vendors. “Each company hires laborers for setting up tents. It sets up a printing press for advertisement campaigns. So there’s a lot of income generation activity in these months,” says Pradeep Bidkar.

The reason why Zadipatti is so popular even today, despite the cable invasion, is that the makers have perfected the ‘masala’ for entertainment. Tonight’s drama, for example, depicts a prominent family with a scheming daughter-in-law, played by Dnyaneshwari Kapgate, 30, straight from Ekta’s Kapoor’s K-world (a popular Indian TV producer, who used to name her TV soap operas starting with the letter K because of strong believe in numerology). The drama is melodramatic and loud at times, but the audience is riveted till the end. It is about the ruthlessly ambitious bahu (daughter-in-law), who tries to grab the property of her father-in-law, a prominent lawyer. In the end, of course, her game is up and good wins over evil.

The play begins with loud cheers from the audience. As each scene unfolds and each song is performed, I realize this is no simple village drama. It has many layers and complexity. The people know all the songs by heart and sing along.
At the first interval, I am called backstage to share a late dinner: rice and some really spicy gravy. It’s overwhelming but enjoyable. Just like the play.

*****
It’s tiring work, acting in a drama that lasts close to six hours. And during the season, the drama group gets hardly any time to relax. “During the approximately 180 days of the season, we work for about 155,” says Devendra Dodke. “This means, no festivals, birthdays, anniversaries, marriages,” he says. No sick leaves either. Devendra remembers a show when he was doing his scenes in between saline drips administered to him backstage. “It’s a lot of hard work but it pays off. An actor makes anything between Rs 50,000 to Rs 300,000,” Devendra says. Most actors are amateurs: someone is a clerk, the other a contractor, a third, a DJ. They will do their regular jobs for the rest of the year but their passion is acting.

After the show is over, the actors meet backstage for the last time to have tea, poha (a snack made of rice) and hug. They promise to meet next year. Behind them, the dark sky turns indigo as dawn breaks. It’s time to go home.

Orientation
Contact Person for play information: Anurag Kulkarni (he has been following Zadipatti for more than 6 years and has been documenting the performances). Reach him at sadigital(at)gmail(dot)com

Nearest Airport: Nagpur (Multiple daily connections from Delhi and Mumbai)

Nearest Railway Station: Nagpur (Multiple daily connections from Delhi and Mumbai)


Photo Credit: Sadanand Borkar

Author: Reeti Pandharipande

She is a freelance writer, wildlife conservationist, part-time lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Nagpur University

Comments

  1. Having stayed in Nagpur for like 20yrs I never bothered to explore anything other than the dhaabas, but after doing that in Pune, wanna start exploring nagpur too. What you have covered seems like something out of old myths and secret meet ups. Nice to have the contact details, now i know where to head when I visit Nagur again.

  2. Wow… This is huge. it’s darn unique. It’s complete documentary material.

  3. Excellent work! I don’t need to wait until Diwali for Zadipatti…your blog made me travel. Looking forward to read more… Cheers!!

  4. akshay daga says:

    this is an awesome eyeopener reeti… thanks for such a wonderfully written insight on zadipatti.. though i dont know much about it desoite staying in nagpur all my life, the article has egged me on to really explore this side of my city…

  5. you are doing a great job, keep it up. There is so much around us to explore but only a few people like you get a chance to witness this or i can say that only few people want’s to explore. Is it possible to upload a video?

    Well Done

  6. vinod rajagopalan says:

    This is awesome.Pretty good information.. there is so much more to our country that we dont even know or probably dont make an attempt to know..Good stuff. And yea you write well 🙂

  7. Brilliant and gripping !!!

    Also highlights the ignorance of many urbanites about such interesting side of our rural culture. Even I have passed through and stayed around these villages umpteen number of times, but was totally unaware of Zhadipatti!!

    Your write up almost took me there…keep up the good work and keep wandering 🙂

  8. Great work Reeti…..Hope I am there during Diwali and am so looking forward to it.Never knew about it and I hope I get a chance to explore when I next visit to Nagpur 🙂

  9. Very well written Reeti.It’s unbeleivable to find out something that’s happening so close to nagpur and have never heard of!!!Hope I can visit this place sometime…and experience Zadipatti!!!

  10. Superb scripting as the art itself, thank you for adventuring out to bring this story. As someone already said, the topic is absolutely ripe for a documentary itself. I’ve absolutely loved the flow of the article and must congratulate the author for making it so very real (could almost feel the pulse of village and excitement thereon). Superbly written, keep up the good work, looking forward to reading more of your adventures, experience and travel……….

  11. neera bhandari says:

    AWESOME……………………………….KEEP IT UP!

  12. Nivedita.V.Makode says:

    This opened a totally new world to me…nevr heard or seen…
    n the write up made it all the more real..
    It ws total fun! Looking forward to more such fun reading!!
    Lots of best wishes!…

  13. Reeti Pandharipande says:

    Thanks Sean….u said it. Its really worth documenting and some people from my city are already doing that. Do come down to experience it urself.
    @ Neeti….Thanks so much sister. But reading it and experiencing it yourself is totally different…i still recommend u should go for it whenever u r back in India. And ur appreciation makes me wanna write more.
    @ Akshay…Thank u Akshay. Will let u knw whenever its happening nxt n we’ll go together…thanks again for all the praise.
    @Sudhanshu…Thanks so much buddy….thank u for liking it n yes i think i’m really lucky that i can travel and now finally write abt it. Will try and get a video for u 🙂
    @ Vinod….Thanks Vinod for appriciating my writing. Yup i agree there’s so much to explore in India…u can read other articles on this website and get more info. And i’ll keep u posted with more such interesting stuff…..keep checking 🙂

  14. Reeti Pandharipande says:

    @ Aakash….thanks aakash…yup it happens all around us n we never notice…keep looking for this space and i’ll keep giving u more 🙂
    @ Ankur….Come soon would take u there myself. Thanks for reading.
    @ Shreewardhan….Thank u Shree…Watch the space n i’ll give u more 🙂
    @ Thank u so much Neerja for all the appreciation 🙂 i hope i keep up to it in my future write-ups.
    Thank so much Neeru bua…. 🙂

  15. Reeti Pandharipande says:

    @ Nivedita…Thank u so much. All u girls should go and watch at least one show. Will keep u posted on future write-ups.

  16. Rahul Dixit says:

    Nice work Reeti. Very good flow. One thing you missed is the immense role the “Prompter” plays backstage. HE is the lifeline of these highly entertaining dramas with melodramatic performers. Another “must” for Zadipatti is a “nati” (lead dancer). People come from far-flung areas just to see the “nati” add oomph to the drama.
    Congrats for doing this brilliant piece. All the best.
    PS: Dnayneshwari Kapgate is surely not 30 :-). She was 18 when I met her in 1992 during a Zadipatti drama in Bhandara district.

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      @ Rahul…thanks so much for giving ur time and reading the blog. The play I saw was without a prompter and a ‘nati’. There were 2 girls in the play n none of them danced…there were just 2-3 romantic songs. What u said is true…Dnayneshwari is no more 30….of course a little older… but when i saw this specific play she was 30….my mistake. Thanks for the wishes….i hope to make u proud 🙂

  17. Having lived in Nagpur almost all my life, and being one of the ‘traveller’ types, I wonder how I missed this. Thanks for sharing. Brilliantly written! Kinda makes you look forward to being there. Loved the description and the insider’s view on the Zadipatti drama 🙂 Keep Rocking and keep sharing!

  18. Reeti Pandharipande says:

    @ Rahul…thanks so much for giving ur time and reading the blog. The play I saw was without a prompter and a ‘nati’. There were 2 girls in the play n none of them danced…there were just 2-3 romantic songs. What u said is true…Dnayneshwari is no more 30….of course a little older… but when i saw this specific play she was 30….my mistake. Thanks for the wishes….i hope to make u proud 🙂

  19. Reeti Pandharipande says:

    @ Puneet…Thanks puneet…more to come…keep watching the space 🙂

  20. Vikramaditya Singh says:

    Super article! So well written and researched! Very educative and enlightening! Enjoyed reading it!

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      @ Vikram…Believe me i’m jumping right now….His HIghness himself reading n commenting on my blog. Thank u so much for ur appreciation 🙂 i’m still grinning with happiness….thank u again. U have to help me with my nxt blog 🙂

  21. sandeep Sinha says:

    Great work Reeti !!!!!!!!!! I knew you write well but that well I am amazed . More over this article really throws light on what real india means and the colour of rural india .Keep it up…

  22. Prerana Daga says:

    Reeti – This is absolutely brilliant – beautifully and very interestingly described! When I am next in India in winters, you have to organize for us to go and watch one of the shows, sounds super fun!!!

  23. Malati Panga says:

    Despite having spent so many years in Nagpur, I didn’t know about Zadipatti. Loved reading abut it… You actually took me along through the whole experience. Thanks Reeti. Keep up the good work.

    Malati

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      Thank u Ma’am….thank u so much for taking time out n reading the blog. The blog represents what i learnt from you. I hope to make u proud in my future blogs as well 🙂

  24. Kriti Manjrekar says:

    Wow Reeti! i really echo Akshay’s thoughts. I am so glad i know you and Harshad… never really fail to admire how meaningful you make your life and how near you are to the roots of India…would love to see more of this myself. do let me know next time you go for these plays…. and I must add, I feel as if i never missed this one…the way you have described it is so illustrative. Cheers!

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      Thank u Kriti…we r glad too tht we knw u…thankfully we do have people around us who appreciate our work. Will keep u posted on more. Thanks again 🙂

  25. Raju Wilkinson says:

    Really an eye-opener! Very well written, keep it up.

  26. Sumit Jain says:

    Reeti you wirte it very well…after a long time i read that much long artical without skipping a single line… before this artical i never ever heard about this zadipatti theater..while reading i was imagine the seens by your wordings ..superb writing….now i understood Reeti ke Blogs par itne Likes aur comments kyon aate hain…

    Regards

    Sumit

  27. Very interesting and informative. Well-written!!

  28. Mangesh Khanvilkar says:

    superb Article Reeti…Fantabulos job…Let me tell u that this is the first article which I read in one go or else I usually prefer breaks…but this one just didn’t leave me…brilliant jobs as far as number (revenue) details are concerned…this definitely calls for a short vacation during Diwali…would love to witness this ZADIPATTI in person…also it’s an interesting subject for a photo shoot….over all fantastic job….keep rockin n keep blogging…. Regards Mangesh

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      Thank u Mangesh jiju….glad u enjoyed reading it as much as i enjoyed witnessing the show. U should really come down sometime between Oct and March and i promise u some brillant photography opportunity 🙂

  29. WOW! You have a gift Reeti-you write straight from your heart, just like you say & do everything else.. You definitely have it in you to write and write well-all the comments above prove that.. Exploit it to the fullest! Proud of you! :))

  30. An extremely well written piece Reeti… it summarized so well the hidden gem called – “Zadipatti”. I am sure I am not alone when I say I had never even heard of something like this. It is wonderful that people of our generation are still discovering and following it (read anurag Kulkarni) and others like you who take the trouble of investigating and documenting the same. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Zadipatti through your perspective and look forward to an opportunity wherein I could perhaps explore zadipatti for myself and develop my own.

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      Thank u Bianca. Thanks for all the praise. I wish all of us (people who r interested) can go together for one of the shows…i think it’ll be fun n and an amazing experience!!

  31. solomon David says:

    Rocking blog “Reeti”. What an amazing journey & experience I have encountered without even being there..One word..”wow” !

  32. Kiran Trivedi says:

    I am thrilled. It was amazing. Your article about Zadipatti village made me travel the place……!! Your skill of writing is fabulous. Till the date, I never heard about a place called ‘Zadipatti’. But after reading your article, I am very eager to visit the place as soon as possible. I wish to see you as a putative author. Keep on writing. My best wishes are with you…….!!

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      Thanks mumma….u r tooo cute. Zadipatti is not a village like i told u….its a form of theater….but love u for actually opening the website n reading the entire thing n commenting on it…u r the best. Hope to make u proud ma 🙂 love u.

  33. Anupam Padmanabhan says:

    Wow!!! I am amazed!!! Living in Nagpur since ever n never came across such an event. Thanks Reeti for enlightening us all through your exploration n superb write up. Will definitely make it a point to visit next year. It’s always so heartening to get back to the roots. Keep up the good work n keep sharing. Cheers!!!

  34. Zadipatti is now a must see attraction for us… thanks for enlightening about the neighbourhood happenings. Shows how ignorant most of us have been regarding our own surroundings. Really well written Reeti. Absolutely Like Like… 🙂

  35. I didn’t know such wonderful culture existed in the backyard… gives insight as to how little I am aware… very well written … way to go gal!!! more insightful posts please 😀

  36. Hey.. wow u r amazing with the pen…(errr the keyboard). Its so heartning to know that rural life exists and that they have their own protocals! Loved ur descriptive piece.. i could actually visualize it.. nice one reets… encore! 🙂

  37. I worked in NY Broadway; I never imagined that there will be something similar to Broadway that exists in other parts of the world. I guess the entitlement is universal for the people everywhere. This is an interesting post; I always want to read other culture specifically rural culture in other parts of the world. Does this happen only in rural parts of India or in cities too?

    -Brad

    • Reeti Pandharipande says:

      Hey Brad….wow…would love to know your side of the story…i mean about the NY broadway. Ya i agree its really interesting to knw abt other cultures. Well Zadipatti or the form of theater i wrote about only happens in rural parts and specifically in the reagion around Vidharba. Thanks for going through the write-up and the appriciation 🙂

  38. Ruta Dharmadhikari says:

    Well written, Reeti. Your passion for people and places shines bright through your words. You empathy will always make you welcome wherever you go. I came across zadipatti poetry recently, and am thrilled to read about the theatre too. Would love to go see a performance. Keep writing.

    Ruta

  39. Hiya! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice information you have got here on this post. I will be coming again to your blog for extra soon.

  40. This is the reverse Zadipatti-Rural India’s 150 Year Old Folk Broadway journal for anyone who wants to move out out nearly this substance. You attention so such its nigh exhausting to converse with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new extend on a subject thats been typewritten around for period. Respectable squeeze, simply outstanding!

  41. Mamta Shetty says:

    hey reeti…luvd it..beautifully written…
    lyk a story…cud visualise it as i read….
    babes gudd wrk…n an article on rural theater..nyccc
    wishng u d best….

  42. neha jaipuria says:

    loved it sonu di…..it also makes me rethink….not rethink but a thought process does begin…do i knw my roots well????

    thank u for this viivid description of zadipatti! 🙂

  43. nitin narke says:

    very well written reeti!have seen quite a lot of marathi theatre, but not of the sort in which the play goes on all night and entertains the villagers!commendable work of researching it!good to see somebody write about something to do with rural india in a positive way!congratulattions for the good work!

  44. So many years in Maharashtra and I have yet to vist Nagpur.
    But as I have a standing invitation from a close friend, I think I should go and when I am there I will make it a point to have a look at this (or time my visit as per their show)
    These type of live shows are any time better than the movies.
    Thanks for sharing.

  45. This is an interesting story, I am doing research about rural entertainment that has been happening all over the world. During my research about India’s rural entertainment I did not find info about “Zadipatti”. Your article is a eye-opener for me. I will try to include it in my research findings.

  46. Zadipatti - In other parts of India? says:

    Interesting and informative article, does it happen in other parts of India?

  47. Wow!

    Feels like I discovered something just by reading it!

    Great stuff!

  48. 150 year old tradition in India says:

    When I as young, I saw Zadipatti with my friends and families, your article brings back my childhood memories.

  49. Nice info about Zadipatti, I have seen some of rural village shows in Tamil Nadu during my childhood days. I am glad those type of shows are still going on in India.

  50. Dr Ulhas Nimkar says:

    I am being from Vidarbha now in Mumbai , since my birth I have been not only watching but have actively participated in the ancient folk dance DADHAR but with pace of time the art is vanished now a days , but somewhere I read in the daily Marathi News ”Lokasatta” that Dr Borkar from Sadak Arjuni is doing some pioneer work to revive this art once again , I am being ardent admirer of this art & would like to join this mission , & would like work in Vidarbha, could I get Dr Borkar’s contacts so that I could accomplish my wish of contributing to the soil of Vidarbha

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