Vishnudas Bhave (Marathi: विष्णुदास भावे) (d. 9 August 1901), was the leading dramatist of Maharashtra in India and the pioneer of Marathi theatre, as he staged the first Marathi-language play Sita Swayamvar in Sangli 1843. In this venture, Vishnudas Bhave was fully supported by Rajasaheb Chintamanrao Patwardhan. After the success of the play "Sita Swayamvar" Vishnudas Bhave staged plays on episodes of the Ramayana. He traveled a lot with his troupes for the plays. He also ventured into puppet shows. Vishnudas Bhave died on 9 August 1901.
In Maharashtra the theatrical activity began in 1843 with Vishnudas Amrut Bhave's Sanglikar Natak Mandali. This drama company was influenced by the English plays. Vishnudas Bhave was an extremely gifted scholar - playwright, director and able organiser. A drama school was also set up in Sangli. Vishnudas Bhave came to Mumbai in 1853 and in the beginning he staged his "Khel-Akhyan" (play-narrations in verse) and plays in the wada of Shri Vishvanath Shimpi in the Girgaum locality of the city. The stories of his plays were rooted in Sanskrit mythological and religious literature. Songs and music were the strengths of Vishnudas Bhave's dramas. His play "Sita Swayamvar" became very popular and received much encomium. For the most part, Bhave's plays were one-man shows, with other cast playing strictly supporting and secondary roles only when their presence was needed. The tradition of full-fledged drama was revived much later in 1880 by Annasaheb Kirloskar, who is credited more often than Bhave as the pioneer of Marathi theatre.
The history of Marathi Theater records that "Bhave produced plays in Marathi with music composed on Karnataki base. His play was much admired by the Governor's Secretary... religious spirit, scientific singing by a sort of chorus in the midst of dialogues by other characters, crude dances and quaint costumes and make-up and certain skillful sword-play were their outstanding qualities. One has to remember that the audience was very devotional in character".
Besides Vishnudas Bhave's company other drama companies also came into existence, chief among them being Mumbaikar Natak Mandali, Amarchand Wadikar Natak Mandali, and Chaulwadi Hindu Natak Mandali. The plays by these drama companies attracted large audiences.
It was after 1843 that the Marathi theater began to progress. University education had begun in Maharashtra. In 1868 Vinayak Kirti entered the Marathi Theater with his historical drama Madhavrao Peshwa. The plays by Vishnudas Bhave and later playwrights were distinguished by excessive prominence to songs and music but Vinayak Kirti's Madhavrao Peshwa had absolutely no songs or musical recitals; instead the whole drama was acted with dialogues which were totally in prose. Here the Marathi drama branches off in two directions - Prose Plays and Verse Plays. Now the Marathi Theater was on its un-interrupted march.