In His Own Script: A strain of violence runs through Vijay Tendulkar’s plays. But compiling published pieces is a lazy way to introduce his life and art, says Kavita Nagpal THE INDIAN EXPRESS FLAIR November 18, 2001
Vijay Tendulkar’s emergence as a playwright on the national scene in the late sixties coincided with that of Badal Sircar, Mohan Rakesh and Girish Karnad. This quartet, writing in Marathi, Bengali, Hindi and Kannada, respectively, formed the new and modern voice of Indian theatre. No sooner performed — occasionally the text barely written — their plays were quickly translated into other Indian languages and grabbed for performance. Though he had been known in Marathi theatre for some years, it was Tendulkar’s play Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe (Silence! The Court is in Session, 1968) that thrust him into the limelight. It hit the boards almost simultaneously in Marathi (director: Arvind Deshpande) and Hindi (director: Om Shivpuri). Director Satyadev Dubey made a film in Marathi, with Sulabha Deshpande in the lead. The Sangeet Natak Akademi award came to Tendulkar in 1971, even before his controversial plays like Sakharam Binder, Ghasiram Kotwal (both 1972), Baby (1975) or Kamala (1982) had happened. Tendulkar had 13 plays to his credit till then, of which Gidhade and Ashi Pakhde Yeti — the former dealing with family violence and the latter a light comedy written for a successful actor — had been popularly translated in several Indian languages. It is difficult to pin any specific ideological preoccupation in his dramas, except perhaps a strain of violence, both social and singular. Accused of pessimism, Tendulkar retorts, ‘‘My experience of my times, my life, has shown me that the individual is largely disempowered, made abject, reduced to the role of spectator by the logic of certain events and social groupings.’’Plays differ widely in style and structure, but except for Ghasiram Kotwal most are cast in the realistic mould. There is however one unifying factor; each script comes with precise instructions on the scenic design both for the director and technical crew. Tendulkar’s description of characters carries vivid pointers for actors. That a good production can be managed by just following Tendulkar’s stage instructions is a truism. He learnt his theatre ‘‘by mainly watching plays, more bad plays than good ones’’, says Tendulkar in one of the chapters in the Katha ALT series The Play is the Thing, part of the Sri Ram Memorial Lecture delivered by Tendulkar in 1997. ‘‘They provoked me into mentally rewriting them my way to turn them into good plays. I found it an excellent exercise.’’ With Shanta Gokhale’s Tendulkar on his own terms (the chapter on Tendulkar’s women in particular), this is the other incisive piece on the writer’s compendium in a book which is basically a compilation of published pieces assembled as part of the 2001 Katha Chudamani Award given to Tendulkar this year. A sickly pampered child brought up amidst books and amateur dramatics (his father was a publisher and theatre buff), Tendulkar, born in 1928, learnt his lessons in caste and communalism early when he dumped school to join the Quit India Movement. To escape parental wrath he loafed in the cinema hall, often over two or even three shows of a film, preparing perhaps for his other profession, that of a script writer (Nishant, Manthan, Akrosh, etc). He wrote and directed his first play — a version of a mythological film Mya — at eleven, in which he played Krishna in vivid blue paint! ‘‘I write for myself,’’ Tendulkar told me in an interview in 1971. ‘‘When the play is produced, it has gone out of my hands and I have severed direct relationship with it. I can’t, for instance, see my play on stage. (He attended the silver jubilee of Ghasiram Kotwal in Delhi, 1973, but did not see the show.) I become sort of insensitive to the play.’’ Though Tendulkar believes that playwriting is an individual pursuit — ‘‘you can play your tune with someone else’s instrument, but not with someone else’s hand’’ — he worked closely with the cast and crew during the first staging of Shantata in Marathi.