With the passing of Vijay Tendulkar, a giant banyan on our cultural scene has given way. And the loss of its shade is perhaps going to be felt most by young people in Marathi theatre.
For the last few years, Tendulkar hadn’t written much except a couple of novels, some autobiographical articles and a prequel to Sakharam Binder. But he regularly kept in touch with the new generation, praising them, guiding them, and displaying a curiosity for their concerns.
In a conversation with this writer a couple of years ago, Tendulkar spoke of his struggle for survival due to lack of any formal qualifications. He grew up in a house full of books and read avidly. His small-time publisher father took him to the theatre a lot and the boy Tendulkar was fascinated by the way men enacted women’s roles and then smoked beedis backstage. In school, he was a loner and writing became an emotional need.
Ironically, it could have been this lack of formal education that kept Tendulkar away from straitjacketed methods of expression. He refused to be walled in by accepted traditions and conventions and right from his earliest plays, Grihast and Shrimant in 1955, he was recognised by his rebellious, iconoclastic style that earned him bouquets and brickbats in equal measure.
In the five decades that followed, he stayed unflinchingly on his chosen path, crossing swords with numerous adversaries, among them political parties like Shiv Sena and self-appointed moral brigades who branded him as a subversive write who peddled sex and violence. The plays that came under the scanner in the early 1970s were Gidhade, Tendulkar’s naturalistic take on intrinsic violence in man as manifested in a middle-class family, Sakharam Binder, where once again physical violence and so-called immoral behaviour came to the fore and standard, middle-class notions of theatre were stood on their head; and Ghashiram Kotwal, his international success which had the pro-Brahmin brigade up in arms but which, Tendulkar claimed, kept the focus, like in his other plays, on human frailties that change people almost overnight.
Of course, there were many more plays. The ones he wrote in the 1950s and ’60s for Rangayan, the premier experimental theatre group of the day, where he worked with colleagues like Vijaya Mehta, Shreeram Lagoo and Aravind and Sulabha Deshpande. And later, after plays like Ghashiram, plays like Kanyadaan, which centered around the upheaval in a Brahmin family when the daughter marries a Dalit man; Chiranjeev Saubhagyakankshini, about the travails of a girl in the marriage mart, Mitrachi Goshita, about a lesbian relationship; and Kamala a take-off on the true incident of a journalist’s purchase of a woman which the playwright used to highlight the inequality of genders.
Tendulkar wrote some path-breaking film scripts too, largely for the parallel cinema of the 1970s and 80s. However, he always stated that theatre was the medium he was most comfortable with.
Mukta Rajadhyaksha is a theatre critic and writer