Sudharak Olwe

The Circle of Tamasha
They live in a vicious circle. This photo essay depicts the agony and ecstasy of the forbidden lives of an unfortunate community. You'll find them at Sagar and Mangal theatres, Modnimb Village located in western Maharashtra, an overnight drive from Mumbai. Here, huddled in a 10 ft x 10 ft single room, about 10 people comprising young girls, their mothers, their younger sisters and brothers stay put. Their valuables are neatly stacked in rows of shining metal boxes. Pictures of their favourite stars and goddesses bedeck the white-washed walls. The luxuries include colour televisions and stereos. There are about ten such rooms and each room is inhabited by a cluster of people which comprise of one group. All these groups have a common kitchen or at times order from a nearby restaurant.
Come sundown and the girls and their mothers tie ghungroos (a leather strap with strings of metal bells that can weigh as heavy as seven kilos to create rhythm.) around their ankles, apply make-up, dress themselves in paithani sarees and get set for the show. The theatre is a 35 ft x 17 ft room with a single door and devoid of any windows. It has a wooden stage which often creaks with the weight of the dancers. The room is dimly lit. A couple of torn rugs are strewn in front of the stage followed by rows of wobbly wooden benches. They are the tamasha artists from the kolhati community Tamasha is a folk art of Maharashtra, where the artists sing, dance and enact in a very suggestive format. The men in the group play the dholki, tabla or harmonium as an accompaniment for the erotic music. 
Presently there are about 3,000 such tamasha dancers. Usually each group has regular patrons who throw money at the dancers while they are performing. As night deepens, these groups settle for private recitals if any patrons demands it. The money that they get is distributed amongst the members of each group.
In the past, tamashas were patronised by Maratha chieftains and Peshwas during the pre-independence days. The patrons are now replaced by politicians and other such purse-holders and power brokers. Unfortunately, once the girls wore ghungroos, marriage was not possible as they were treated like pariahs. But still, most tamasha artists have children, adopting their mother's name, as they believe that they are their only hope for living and are some support to them in their old age. Over the years, what happens in most cases is that these children get initiated into the profession. A profession that their parents are not proud of, but because of a dearth of better options are sort of compelled to endorse it. Presently, they get a stipend of Rs. 300 once the women reach the age of 40. The state government has been promising them several socio-economic perks expected to better their condition and honour their art with prestige. Unfortunately the promises are yet to be realised. Till then, the tamasha artists bravely battle it out. Night after night. While hoping for a better dawn.