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Tendulkar Festival in Pune

One of the salient features of Tendulkar Festival, organized jointly by veteran Amol Palekar and Idea was that they themselves took it quite seriously and planned it immaculately. The Badal Sircar Festival initiated by Amol last year turned out to be memorable in many ways and there was a general feeling among the viewers that such festivals should be organized time and again. Amol deserves merit for having organized Tendulkar festival at the most appropriate time. Considering Tendulkar's speeches and interviews over the last two or three years, one felt that it was a timely gesture; Moreover, the over all condition of the parallel Marathi theatre at present is such that some retrospection would do it good; and there, one has to go back to the theatre in fifties and sixties and a part of seventies too, when Tendulkar was at the helm of affairs.

The Tendulkar festival opened with the screening of films based on Tendulkar's plays and other writings. That the likes of Govind Nihalani, Satyadev Dubey and Shyamanand Jalan directed those films and Om Puri, Nasseruddin Shah, Sulabha Deshpande, Ashish Vidyarthi and such veterans acted in those films, speaks for Tendulkar's literary stature. The main attraction at the screening session was the film, Tendulkar and Violence - the past and the present directed by Atul Pethe, from Pune. The California Arts Association, the CALAA, has funded the project. The issue of violence with reference to Tendulkar's plays namely Gidhade, Ghashiram Kotwal, Sakharam Binder and to some extent Kamla and Kanyadan, has already been discussed at length so far. There are a few scholars and critics who hold that these very plays and the issues form the quintessence of Tendulkar, the playwright. In Atul Pethe's approximately hundred minute film, you saw Makarand Sathe, himself a playwright, put a number of pertinent questions to Tendulkar. However he didn't bother (or dare?) to pursue the questions as Tendulkar tended to drift along. Prof. Ram Bapat and the playwright Prof. G. P. Deshpande observed in their statements that Tendulkar never seemed to take cognizance of the sociological dimension of violence, its causes and consequences.

With a view to find out what Tendulkar meant to the young directors and actors today, Amol invited a number of parallel theatre groups not only from Pune and Mumbai but also from Solapur, Nagpur, Kankawali, Nashik to present Tendulkar’s One Act plays at the festival. (Let it be noted that it was Tendulkar who breathed-in fresh life into the One Act play form back in fifties and the then Marathi experimental theatre thrived mostly on his One Acts.) The over all performance of the theatre groups, with one or two exceptions was disappointing. True, a few of those plays sound out-dated now; but that certainly can’t be an excuse for the under rehearsed performances.

Samanvay, an ever-fresh theatre group from Pune presented a play Ramprahar, based on the newspaper column that Tendulkar wrote back in 1975. The column was mainly about the Babri Masjid episode and its aftermath. It satirically exposed the fanatic Hindus - their muddle-headedness and cunning. Samanvay, despite its slick performance, could hardly take the sardonic spirit of the play across, in that the actors looked too young and naive to play the Impossible Hindus. Director Sandesh Kulkarni needs to recast the play for sure.

‘Female characters in Tendulkar’s plays’ has always been a favourite subject with the research scholars. Whether or not Tendulkar’s female characters could be described as non-conformist seems to be the main theme of such studies. Amol invited both the senior and the junior artistes such as Sulabha Deshpande, Saoli Mitra, Rohini Hattangadi, Amrita Subhash and the others to present monologues and soliloquies from Tendulkar’s plays at a special session of the festival… However, the great names apart, the monologues, as cut away from their respective contexts practically made no sense; besides, the senior artistes appeared quite tired and could not deliver their lines with fervour. Consequently the session seemed rather insipid. The reading of a few scenes from Vultures (Gidhade) given by Aleque Padamsee and his co-artistes stood in sharp contrast with the presentation of monologues. The over-all pace of the reading, the intonation and the slight gestures on the part of artistes made it a lively experience!

No other playwright ever faced the rage of the self appointed custodians of culture as Tendulkar did in the Modern Indian Theatre. They went to the extent of making physical assault on him on a number of occasions. The producers and directors of his plays also were not spared. However, Tendulkar while never losing his calm during the struggle for the freedom of expression, never compromised either. He stood his ground to the last. Kumar Ketkar, Nikhil Waagle, the renowned journalists and the playwright G.P. Deshpande enlightened the audience on Tendulkar’s ‘ Never say Die’ spirit, in the context of the various controversies that his plays aroused. That was perhaps the only session in the festival where the speakers discussed the subject in the historical perspective. Actor Lalan Sarang had a different story to tell. Whereas the neighbours and the so-called friends turned backbiters during the Sakharam Binder trial, her audience proved to be most considerate, she observed.

Despite having the greats such as Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Shabana Azmi, and Jabbar Patel to talk about their perception of Tendulkar’s scenario writing, the whole exercise hardly offered anything noteworthy. That Tendulkar creates apt visuals and his dialogues are always quite exacting is something that even a novice could notice. You don’t need stalwarts to tell you that; and there was no need to give a separate session for that either.

Tendulkar’s two interviews were arranged at the festival. Gauri Ramanarayana of The Hindu, Chennai, conducted one. It was in English. The other was in Marathi and was conducted by Meghana Pethe, the leading Marathi short story writer. Tendulkar himself has gone so autobiographical in his writings and speeches in recent times and he has so frequently voiced his views on a number of socio-political issues rather candidly that the interviewers were left with no other choice than to ask him what he has been talking about. In an urge to give vent to the inner most feelings, Tendulkar became quite sentimental at times, which was uncalled for. His sharp intellect, ready wittedness, and his skill of repartee and the utmost sincerity were rather overshadowed by those sentimental moments.

Actor Nana Patekar compeered the whole festival with great ease. You could see that Nana was absolutely relaxed through out the festival and enjoyed every moment there. However, he did not seem to have done his homework well. Had he known the fact that actor-director Damu Kenkre was instrumental in introducing Tendulkar as a playwright, way back in fifties, he might not have taken undue liberty with Damu Kenkre right on the stage. A compeer has to have a sense of propriety after all!

Whereas the young actors and directors were given an opportunity to approach Tendulkar’s One Act plays anew, there were hardly any youth to be seen in the auditorium. The young theatre people from Pune and Mumbai complained that they just could not afford the entrance-fees, Rs.500/-(only!) to the festival; ironically enough, a large number of seats in the theatre remained vacant throughout the festival… What sort of Amol-Idea was that? (pun intended).

By Madhav Vaze

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