This volume brings together five critically acclaimed plays, each with a distinct character and message. Kamala is an indictment of the success-oriented male society where women are mere steppingstone for the achievement of men; Silence! The court is in Session combines social criticism with personal tragedy; Skharam Binder explore the complications of human nature, two necessary components of which are sex and violence; and The Vulture depicts the economic and moral degeneration of a family. Encounter in Umbugland is a political satire.
Vijay Tendulkar (1928-2008) was a leading Indian playwright, movie and television writer, literary essayist, political journalist, and social commentator. He has more than fifty publication to his credit. Several of his plays have become in many Indian languages. Recipient of numerous prestigious award such as the Padma Bhusan, the Vishnudas Bhave Memorial Award, and the Ketha Chudamani Award, for successfully raising social issue through his plays, Tendulkar was one of the greatest playwrights of our times.
Vijay Tendulkar has been in the vanguard of not just Marathi but Indian theatre for almost forty years. Beginning his career as a dramatist in the mid-fifties, this prolific writer has twenty-eight full length plays, twenty-four one-act plays, and eleven children's dramas to his credit, a good number of which have been translated and produced in major Indian languages. His Silence! the Court is in Session earned him a place among leading Indian playwrights in the late sixties while his Ghasiram Kotwal won him international fame in the mid-seventies. Winner of several national and international awards and fellowships, he is both a venerated and a controversial figure in the country's theatre scene. To discuss such a figure and his equally well-known works, most of which have generated so much intellectual debate and controversy, one requires a temporal distance-a separation in time-to be able to understand and evaluate them in clear perspective. The intervening years, since the plays were written, provides us with that advantage.
Tendulkar's first major work that set him a part from previous generation Marathi playwrights was Manus Navache Bet (An Island called Man) (1955), which gave expression to the tormenting solitude. and alienation of a modern individual in an urbane, industrialized society. His dramatic genuis was cut out for the newly emerging, experimental Marathi theatre of the time. His direct association with Rangayan at this point of his career and continuous interaction with such theatre personalities as Vijaya Mehta, Arvind and Sulabha Deshpande, Kamlakar Sarang, Madhav Varve and Damoo Kenkre, provided new impetus for his creative faculties. Thus Manus Navache Bet was closely followed by a spate of plays-Madhlya Bhinti (The Walls Between) (1958), ChimnichaGhar Hota Menacha (Nest of Wax) (1958), (I Won, I Lost), (1963), Kavlanchi Shala (School for Crows) (1963) and Sari Ga Sari.(Rain, 0 Rain) (1964)-which would chart the course of avant-garde Marathi theatre during the next few years. There seems to be a consistency of theme and treatment in them despite the apparently disparate nature of their-subjects. In all these early plays, Tendulkar is concerned with the middle class individual set against the backdrop of a hostile society. Another distinctive feature of these plays is the absence of an easy solution. Tendulkar presents modern man in all his complexities. He portrays life as it is from different angles, without trying to moralize or philosophize in any way. Most of these works are endowed with his characteristic style of dialogue-jerky, half- finished, yet signifying more than what it says. Another implicit quality of the treatment of his subjects in all these creations is an underlying sympathy for the 'little big man' in our modern world.
With the production of Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe (Silence! The Court is in Session) in 1967, Tendulkar became the centre of a general controversy. He had already acquired the epithet of 'the angry young man' of Marathi theatre, but now he was definitely marked out as a rebel against the established values of a fundamentally orthodox society. The theatre group in Silence! ... which comes to perform at a village is a miniscule cross-section of middle-class society, the members representative of its different sub-strata. Their characters, dialogues, gestures and even mannerisms reflect their petty, circumscribed existences fraught with frustrations and repressed desires that find expression in their malicious and spiteful attitudes towards their fellow beings, Leela Benare, the central character of the play, is the only exception. Possessing a natural lust for life and a spontaneous joie de vivre, she ignores social norms and dictates. Being different from the others, she is easily isolated and made the victim of a cruel game, cunningly planned by her co-actors. During the course of this so-called 'game', which is meaningfully set in the form of a mock-trial, Miss Benare's private life is exposed and publicly dissected, revealing her illicit love affair with Professor Damle, a married man with a family, which has resulted in her pregnancy. Professor Damle is significantly absent at the trial, denoting his total withdrawal of responsibility, either social or moral, for the whole situation into which he has landed Miss Benare. During the trial, he is summoned merely as a witness while Benare remains the prime accused as the unwed mother of his illegitimate child. Interestingly, the accusation brought against her at the beginning of the trial-that of infanticide- turns into the verdict at the conclusion, principally because contemporary Indian society, with its roots grounded firmly in reactionary ideas, cannot allow the birth of a child out of wedlock. This very reversal in the attitude of the 'authorities' expresses the basic hypocrisy and double standards on which our society is' founded.
The violence that Tendulkar's later plays would be associated with, already makes itself felt in this play. In the persecution of this helpless woman, a fierce psychological violence becomes evident. The latent sadism of the character-s, of Sukhatme, of Mr and Mrs Kashikar, of Ponkshe, Karnik or even Rokde, surfaces during the process of the trial. In delineating these characters, Tendulkar has explored their psyches to the extent of revealing the hidden sense of failure pervading their lives-the inefficiency of Sukhatme as a lawyer, the childlessness of Mr and Mrs Kashikar, the non-fulfilment of Ponkshe's dreams to become a scientist, the vain attempts of Karnik to be a successful actor and the inability of Rokde to attain an independent, adult existence. The figure of the simple-hearted villager, Samant, is adeptly handled by the dramatist to offset the complexities of the urbane characters.
Leela Benare's defence of herself against the onslaught of the upholders of social norms in a long soliloquy, has become famous in the history of contemporary Marathi theatre. It is important to note here that Tendulkar leaves us in doubt as to whether or not Benare at all delivers the soliloquy, thus suggesting that in all probability what she has to say for herself is swallowed up by the silence imposed upon her by the authorities. In fact, during the court proceedings, on several occasions. her objections and protestations are drowned by the judge's cry of 'Silence!' and the banging of the gavel. Benare's monologue is reminiscent of Nora's declaration of independence but lacks the note of protest that characterizes the speech of Ibsen's heroine. It is more a self- justification than an attack on society’s hypocrisies. It is poignant, sensitive and highlights the vulnerability of women in our society.
On the surface, Tendulkar seems to have adapted the model of naturalistic drama. But the integration of the play within a play creates an additional dimension where the demarcating line between reality and illusion-is often blurred. An almost 'Pirandellesque' effect is achieved as the characters move back and forth from make-believe to naked reality. A good instance is Sarnant's evidence where his reading from a sensational and fictitious novel comes dangerously close to the real situation. But it is important to remember that Tendulkar's central concern, unlike Pirandello's, is not the philosophical issue involving the correlation of illusion and reality, but the relationship between individual and society. Also noteworthy is the manner in which Tendulkar uses the hackneyed courtroom drama to build serious theatre just as Ibsen had adapted romantic drama as a receptacle for his indictments of society. Like other dramatists of naturalistic plays, Tendulkar too makes use of certain dramatic symbols in the play. The door bolt that hurts Benare's 'finger at the very outset, physically locks her into the hall where her tormentors persecute her. This incident in itself is an externalization of the 'no escape' plight in which she finds herself in real life. There is also the green cloth parrot and the sad lullaby that Benare sings. Both assume symbolic significance at the. resolution of the play.
Tendulkar has been quite often accused by critics and scholars of appropriating ideas from Western plays and films and Indianizing them. In the story-line of the play under discussion, critics have seen reflections of The Dangerous Came, a dramatization of the German writer Friedrich Durenrnatt's novel. It is necessary to point out here that, despite the similarity in-the outline of the plot. the objectives of the two authors are entirely different. Durenmatt was essentially concerned with existential questions whereas the Indian playwright is involved with social issues. It must. however, be mentioned in this context that Tendulkar himself has admitted to being generally influenced in his early days by Western films, mainly the Hollywood films of the forties, and Western playwrights like Arthur Miller. Tennessee Williams and J. B .. Priestley in particular. He has also stated on occasion that he has consciously and unconsciously been inspired by just about everything around him: real life experiences, hearsay, news items, films. plays and literature in general ... 'But the basic urge has always been to let out my concerns vis-a-vis my reality: the human condition as I perceive it.'
Dambadwipcha Mukabala (Encounter in Umbugland), written and produced a year after Shantata, is a play of a completely different nature. Indeed, it falls in a separate .class in comparison with all the other four plays of this anthology. It is essentially a political allegory but not bereft of human dimensions. It is not difficult to- find reflections of the political situation in India of the late sixties and early seventies in the royalist regime of Dambadwip (Umbugland). But the play is. not merely topical; it unveils the essential nature of the game of politics as also the basic craving for power in human nature. The powerful satire that Tendulkar builds, exposes the intricate political intrigues designed to attain positions of authority and the corruption involved in holding on to them. Despite the distancing achieved through the creation of a fictitious milieu, it is easy to identify the characters with political figures who held ministerial positions in those years--'principled’ politician who spouts moral platitudes: his antitype, a blatantly immoral character; the statesman whose face IS stretched in a constant smile and who gesticulates wildly but at the same time is taciturn to a fault; the floor-crosser who pretends to be ill and sits on the fence till the eleventh hour. And of course, there is the indomitable Princess Vijaya, herself the daughter of the autocratic king, who turns the tables on her advisers and refuses to be their pawn. Tendulkar has portrayed this character with utmost care. There is a definite development in her from a headstrong, self-opinionated but politically inexperienced young princess to an intelligent yet whimsical ruler who devises her own (successful) methods of vanquishing her enemies. There is an intensely human aspect to her nature which is revealed in her highly complex, but interesting relationship with Prannarayan, the eunuch. Prannarayan's function in the plot is the same as that of a sutradluir or that of a chorus. It is he who introduces the play and acts as the neutral and patient commentator throughout the action. Yet he is not a mere observer or even commentator, but a philosopher as well. In the light of his natural wisdom. the reader- audience becomes aware of the ugliness and futility of the power game. It is through his eyes that the dramatist uncovers the central concern of the play: All power corrupts.
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