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Vijay Tendulkar is a scathing interpreter of maladies

Friday, 7 October 2005 - 5:59pm IST | Place: Mumbai

As India's greatest living playwright celebrates 50 years of his career Subuhi Jiwani gets his contemporaries to assess his contribution

Vijay Tendulkar, considered India’s greatest living playwright, celebrates 50 years of his writing career. Hugely prolific, he has written plays, short stories, film scripts, essays, newspaper columns and a novel. Often controversial, he has galvanised theatre and cinema with his provocative explorations of morality, power and violence. Subuhi Jiwani gets his contemporaries to assess his contribution


Dr. Jabbar Patel , Film and theatre director

Vijay Tendulkar was the playwright of Rangayan, a theatre group which gave experimental Marathi theatre a completely new direction. He is largely responsible for the parallel theatre movement.

Manus Navache Bait (Man is An Island), one of his first plays, was remarkable because we had never heard such dialogue before. Theatre at the time used very stylised acting and long sentences with very flowery language; it was distanced from reality.

Tendulkar’s dialogues consisted of only four-five words. He would write instructions for pauses in brackets. The play was ridiculed because it had more pauses than words! What’s remarkable is that Tendulkar brings in theatricality through minimalism.

Shrimant (1956) shocked people because it is about an unmarried, pregnant woman from a rich family who refuses to abort her child. It  seems that it was not given any awards at the Maharashtra state drama competition because it was found to be immoral.

Ashi Pakhare Yeti, a very romantic and lyrical play, is a departure from his work.

Gidhade (Vultures), by contrast, has filthy characters: they constantly swear and spit after ever dialogue. Tendulkar’s point is that even the villain must be examined from all angles. With his victims though, he doesn’t wave the flag of revolt. He says to them, ‘It’s up to you to revolt.’

Ghashiram Kotwal, which was initially put up by B. Kelkar’s  Progressive Dramatic Association (PDA) in Pune was abandoned after 19 performances. It was seen as a defamation of Nana Phadnavis, the Prime Minister of the Peshwas.

As a result, the PDA split up and I, along with 70-80 people, set up the Theatre Academy. We did about 1,000 shows of Ghashiram and toured Europe in 1980.

Some thought a play which ‘distorted’ history should not be shown outside India. It was finally Mrs Gandhi who gave us the green signal. A court order required us to state before each performance that Nana Phadnavis was a great Peshwa administrator.

Everywhere we went, the Indian ambassador came to check if we were following the court order. Of course, we followed it like honest Indians.

Shanta Gokhale, Theatre critic and writer

Tendulkar’s early plays were the first in Marathi theatre to bring the realities of modern urban life to the stage. This was a clear break from the sententious, sentimental and melodramatic plays that dominated the mainstream stage of the time. With his modern themes came a new language, crisp and understated.

He broke new ground again in the 70s with his plays of violence, bringing to the stage sights and sounds that the middle-class audience had never before seen or heard, causing them to protest vehemently against all of them.

The fact that most of these plays had censor trouble compelling the producers to go to court, gave Tendulkar the public image of a fighter, of a writer at cross-purposes with the mainstream.

The joyousness of life is certainly not what compels Tendulkar to write, though many of his plays are full of brightness and wit. However, these are not the plays that have made him well-known because, while they are thoroughly enjoyable, they have not given rise to public debate.

Jayant Pawar, Playwright

When my play Adhantar opened, Tendulkar praised it, saying that he felt as if he was seeing one of his own plays. Before, I was just someone who wrote one-act plays.

But he took me under his wing and I felt a new confidence. He instils confidence in many young playwrights and goes to see their plays. He will live not only through his work but through what he has injected into our generation of playwrights. 

When people talk only about the violence in his plays, they don’t really understand him. His work also contains humour, pathos, compassion, fantasy. And we completely ignore his  children’s plays. People may think he is interested in controversy but it is we (the public) who have tried to cash in on these controversies.

Arun Kakade, Producer, Awishkar

I have been associated with Tendulkar for 50 years and have produced most of his plays. In his early days, he would write out of compulsion because he had no other source of income.

Soon, it became an obsession and then he couldn’t stop. The first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning is write.

Tendulkar has been attacked for his work many times, sometimes physically. After Gidhade, someone actually beat him with a stick.  The play was considered obscene  because it showed a woman with a huge red spot on the front of  her sari. So, when Satyadev Dubey  produced it, he replaced the  red spot with a black one and

told the audience to think of it  as red!

The Tendulkar festival at the Yashwantrao Chavan Theatre, Pune, closes tomorrow.

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