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A Dramatist’s Tryst With Violence: Remembering Vijay Tendulkar

Remembering renowned playwright and screenwriter Vijay Tendulkar on his birth anniversary.

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(This story was first published on 6 January 2016 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Vijay Tendulkar’s birth anniversary.)

Let’s begin by talking about violence.

‘Erm, isn’t that a bit out of context,’ you may ask. ‘There’s enough to read on violence.’

Fair enough. Let’s hear stories instead. Stories of two women and a playwright.

‘Much better.’

Miss Benare is one of the cast members of a play, revolving around a trial. Her character is accused of infanticide in court. It’s a casual rehearsal. A stagehand plays proxy for an absent cast member. The rehearsal begins. But soon the proceedings suspend disbelief and become a full-fledged real trial. Miss Benare is blamed, humiliated and defamed for carrying a child out of wedlock. The man involved is the absent cast member.

10-year-old Phulmoni Dasi was married to 30-year-old Hari Mohan Maiti. In 1890, Phulmoni’s mother went to court against her daughter’s husband. In 1891, the British passed the Age of Consent Bill, revising the earlier age of consent for girls from 10 years to 12 years. You see, Phulmoni died after her husband had sex with her. It was probably a cold winter day, just like this.

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Remembering renowned playwright and screenwriter Vijay Tendulkar on his birth anniversary.
Sulbha Deshpande playing Miss Benare in a filmed performance of Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe
(Photo: YouTube screengrab)
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Miss Benare and Phulmoni can never possibly meet. They are from different realities. Phulmoni died in 1889 and Miss Benare is a character from Vijay Tendulkar’s acclaimed 1963 Marathi play Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The Court Is in Session), a play within a play. Yet they share the same dramatis personae of the grand narrative of violence. A narrative that Tendulkar weaved incessantly. So what if he never wrote of Phulmoni, she could very well be a character in his play. Just like Miss Benare.

Had he been alive, the veteran playwright and screenwriter would have turned a year older today.

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The Chronicler of Violence

If there’s one thing that runs as an undercurrent throughout Tendulkar’s works, it’s violence. An undercurrent that has its own ebbs and flows. It wears different countenances, jumps ship from the emotional to the physical, rattling out tale after tale. The way Sakharam treats his women in Sakharam Binder (1972), is violent. It is violence when he kills Champa. And it is with violence that Lakshmi eventually establishes dominion over Sakharam. Violence that completely destroys the sacrosanct idea of the family in Gidhade (Vultures, 1954), with its usage of crude, savage language.

Remembering renowned playwright and screenwriter Vijay Tendulkar on his birth anniversary.
Sakharam’s women. A production of Sakharam Binder, directed by Shyamanand Jalan, and starring Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Chetna Tewari, and Julie Bose.
(Photo Courtesy: Padatik)

During the ’70s and the ’80s, Tendulkar wrote the screenplays of three films that all dealt with violence – Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1975), Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980) and Ardh Satya (1983). Interestingly, the violence perpetrated in these films somehow stem from the desire of liberation – the frenzied oppressed villagers in Nishant, Bhiku the daily wage labourer who kills his sister, knowing she would be raped otherwise in Aakrosh, or Anant the policeman who becomes a murderer by killing a criminal who the law does not bring to justice in Ardh Satya.

Remembering renowned playwright and screenwriter Vijay Tendulkar on his birth anniversary.
(Clockwise) Stills from Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980, Ardh Satya (1983), and Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1975). Vijay Tendulkar wrote the screenplays of the all the three films.
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Learning to Tell a Tale

After lifelong experiments with violence, Tendulkar’s assertion of the mindlessness and futility of violence is something worth noting. His plays never moved away from unmasking violence, almost trying to understand the physics of it. The political violence entwined in the court intrigues of Ghashiram Kotwal (1972) is different from Mitra’s violent society, which stifles her identity in Mitrachi Goshta (A Friend’s Story, or Mitra’s Story).

Remembering renowned playwright and screenwriter Vijay Tendulkar on his birth anniversary.
Mohan Agashe and Om Puri in Ghashiram Kotwal the film
(Photo: YouTube screengrab)

For years Ghashiram Kotwal faced extreme opprobrium and could not be performed. It had probably made Tendulkar angry. Perhaps even violent. After the Godhra violence, an angry Tendulkar made a counter-violent statement. When later asked about it, he said that it was a spontaneous outburst of anger and violence doesn’t yield anything positive.

Remembering renowned playwright and screenwriter Vijay Tendulkar on his birth anniversary.
Promotional banner from Theatron Kolkata’s production of Mitrapuran, adapted from Vijay Tendulkar’s Mitrachi Goshta (A Friend’s Tale).
(Photo Courtesy: Mitrapuran)

Perhaps he’s sitting somewhere, smirking and echoing John Lennon: “I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence.”

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Topics:  Ardh Satya 

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