Homage to Vijay Tendulkar

Noted progressive playwright Vijay Tendulkar passed away on May 19 2008 at the age of 80 following a protracted illness.

Tendulkar revolutionised Marathi theatre with his ruthless exploration of social and political issues. His plays were a weapon to change society and challenge all hidebound ideas and injustices. They exploded the hypocrisies of polite society, broke new ground in their treatment of gender issues, and evolved a fresh genre of political satire full of vitality and contemporary meaning.

‘Shrimant’ (1956) jolted the conservative audience of the times with its portrayal of an unmarried young woman who decides to keep her unborn child while her rich father tries to "buy" her a husband in an attempt to save his social prestige. ‘Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe’ ("Silence! The Court Is In Session", which went on stage in 1967) was a remarkable comment on the double standards of society towards women. ‘Sakharam Binder’ (1972) explored the different implications of unconventional lifestyles for men and women, and faced accusations of ‘obscenity’.

‘Ghasiram Kotwal’ (1972), based on the life of Nana Phadnavis (1741-1800), the prime minister in the court of the Peshwas, was a fearless satire on the rise of the Shiv Sena, and was met with violent attacks by political opponents. Tendulkar never lost that fearless voice against communal fascism: after the Gujarat genocide he raised the same bold voice against Narendra Modi.

Tendulkar’s writing always retained its sharp and unsparing eye for the exploitative and hypocritical attitudes in society towards women and sexuality. In Kamala, he took the real-life story of a journalist who bought a woman in the rural sex trade to expose the police and political powers involved; only to abandon her once his purpose was served. His ‘Mitrachi Goshta’ took up a theme inspired by the real-life story of an actress whose career was ruined after her same-sex affair became public knowledge.

Tendulkar also turned his pen to writing scripts for cinema and left his mark there too - with stark social commentaries like Manthan, Nishant, Aakrosh and Ardh Satya in Hindi and Samana, Simhasan and Umbartha in Marathi.

Tendulkar’s plays never maintained an artificial separation between society and the stage: his theatre spilled on to the streets while the streets resonated in his plays. The curtain has fallen on his life: but his work lives in the hearts of all those who seek the vital link between literature and lived life.

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