As a teenager, Sanjay Shesh (now 54) often accompanied his playwright father Dr Shankar Shesh to Hindi and Marathi dramas. He didn’t want to write plays, or even act in them. But he liked accompanying his father. Their family moved from Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) to Mumbai in the ’70s because Shesh, inspired by theatre director Satyadev Dubey, wanted to devote his life to theatre. From 1969 to 1981, the author penned 22 Hindi plays, including some popular ones such as Ek Aur Dronacharya, Poster and Bin Baati Ke Deep. Now, 35 years after his father passed away, Sanjay is launching a literary initiative — the Shankar Shesh Foundation — to honour Shesh’s work. Two plays, Komal Gandhar and Raktbeej, will be performed at the NCPA on October 2, which is Dr Shesh’s birthday. We talk to Sanjay about the enterprise as he reminisces about his father’s career, and what inspired him to write.
How has your father’s involvement in theatre influenced your family?
My father pursued the arts all his life. All his sons pursued engineering. We were exposed to theatre because it was written at our house, and we had people of [literary] repute visiting us. So, while theatre wasn’t our primary interest, we were introduced to art and culture at home. I wouldn’t say we were keen theatregoers, but we weren’t averse to it as well.
The late Hindi playwright Shankar Shesh.
What led you to launch the foundation now?
Our father hasn’t been with us since 1981. But my mother, Sudha Shesh, was there. She would give permission to those who approached her to stage his plays. But things were not organised. Like my father, she was always willing to let people perform his works. We never thought about royalties. Even today, we don’t think about it. When my mother came to live with us in Mumbai, a group took her consent to perform one of my father’s plays in July 2015. I accidentally happened to watch that play in Marathi. I was so impressed and enjoyed it so much that I felt I should do something about his plays. Unfortunately, we lost our mother soon after that. When she passed away, I thought I should do something for both of them.
What is the societal and political context of your father’s plays? What real experiences inspired him to write them?
He was associated with education. While working as a Hindi professor in Nagpur, he wrote Ek Aur Dronacharya, which has been performed more than 100 times. He wrote plays that spoke about the political environment of education in India. After his stint with education, he became part of tribal welfare. There, he was introduced to casteism in India, which inspired him to he come up with stories like Bad Ka Pani and Poster, which was based on Bastar (a tribal area in Chhattisgarh). He travelled a lot in Bastar.
He also wrote scripts for movies…
After he moved to Mumbai, he wrote the story of Gharaonda (1977). He realised that you have to struggle in the city to have a house of your own. The film is about that. Then, when he saw that many of his friends were getting divorced, he wrote Dooriyan (1979). He also wrote the dialogues for Sridevi’s first movie — Solva Sawan (1979). It also featured Amol Palekar.
Do you feel Shankar Shesh’s work hasn’t received enough recognition?
My father wrote plays prior to 1981. He was writing Hindi plays in a city where art and culture that was predominantly Maharashtrian. The people working with Hindi theatre were living in Delhi and Lucknow, and they thought that since Dr Shesh was living in Mumbai, he was writing for films. So, I think I should get him the recognition, which I don’t think he received [in his lifetime].
What do you hope to achieve with the foundation?
The idea is to create an institution around his work. If a youngster wants to write, he or she can use this platform, and write a play for the Shankar Shesh Foundation. Today, it’s difficult to find someone who has a good idea, a good script, and also good dialogue-writing skills. For example, we want to get 10 people — one person with the idea, another to write the script, and a third to write dialogues, and so on. Together, we would create new scripts, plays, stories and poems. The idea is to encourage new writers. We may also contemporise my father’s literature.
How can a writer apply to write to your foundation?
We’ll invite playwrights to write in various languages. We’ll put together a jury. I’m the managing trustee. So, I will choose five more trustees and they will select the people who know how they want to contribute to Hindi theatre, or creative writing in any other language. Writers can apply directly on our website.