The book ‘The Art of Theatrical Backdrops : 1901-1960 : A Succinct Survey’ was launched in Pune in November.
As the name suggests, the book is a quest of learning and knowing about the art of creating theatrical backdrops and the artists who rendered immaculate scenes consisting of palaces, forests, streets, winding paths, hills, etc. which would complement the scene being played/enacted in front.
Written by history researcher Dr. Amol Divkar, the book talks about the works of V V Divkar who was an eminent backdrop artist of his time. It takes one on the journey of theatre, sangeet natak and technicalities along with enriching images that enliven the narrative. The author being the grandson of V V Divkar, he in his childhood witnessed his grandfather sketching, painting untiringly in his gallery. He was intrigued by the art that the senior Divkar made. Being a professional history researcher, by this time he decided to undertake the study of theatrical backdrops and showcase the lesser known art which is steadily fading away.
“As our research grew, we came to understand that producing scenic backgrounds highlighted a variety of technical skills that the artists possessed. Although they lacked technical training, close examination of some of the drawings and sketches in the book reveals that they are multi-dimensional and it was the kind of work that someone with engineering training could execute”, says Divkar.
Divkar was assisted in research and publication by Studio Gestalt based in Pune and the book is published by Invincible Publishers, Gurugram. As Heritage Consultants, Studio Gestalt recognised the enormous potential in this topic and the necessity of educating theatre-goers about it. “The Art of Theatrical Backdrops was an exciting project to work on.
The book is an easy-to-read journey of Marathi theatre over the years and many transformations. The main subject, the artistically made backdrops, has been handled with a scientific thoroughness and precision to detail,” says Prerna Shetty of Studio Gestalt. “Much like the artists themselves, Dr. Divkar has shown his own artistic capabilities in describing the world of these artists and their gumption in this newly burgeoning field. The spreads showing the photographed backdrops and their preliminary sketches are the cherry on the cake of this publication,” she adds.
The book begins with a black and white photograph of the Lalbaugcha Raja backdrop decoration from 1960 by senior Divkar and then gives an understanding of the early development of theatre in India, the rise of theatre companies, the origins of Marathi Sangeet Natak, techniques used by painters of theatrical backdrops and biographical sketches of such artists. Chief guests for the event included theatre and conservation architect Ved Segan, renowned classical vocalist Pandit Suhas Vyas, Marathi Sangeet Natak doyen Smt. Madhuvanti Dandekar and Dr. Amol Divkar. A classical vocal performance was presented by Ar Neeraj Godse. He was accompanied by Atharva Athalye (Tabla) and Himanshu Joshi (Harmonium). Ar Siddhant Gadade anchored the event.
“The guests were regaled by the performance and were joyfully engrossed in the proceedings of the evening,” says Prerna Shetty. The theatrical arts & theatre have a long history in Pune. The city is blessed with wonderful artistes. However, the contribution of the individuals like the technicians of light & sound, makeup artists, etc. who toil in the shadows is often disregarded. Backdrop artists too, are a part of these. Along with examining the art, technicality, aesthetics, etc. of the backdrop artists, this book aims to shed light on their legacy & contribution. “Although the skill of creating theatrical backdrops may currently be at a grinding halt, it may resume with a little inspiration and guidance”, believes Divkar.