The Playwright Who Loved Brevity

Satchit Puranik pays tribute to Uttam Gada

Dear Uttam, I will not call you Uttamji or Uttambhai because the banalities of nomenclature based on age or seniority never bothered you. You hated hagiographies and your straight faced humour made you the writer that you are, and always, will be.

The first time I read anything written by you, was incidentally, not a play. But a film screenplay, albeit, a controversial one. In 2006, when you were irked about changes in your script made by debutante film maker (and veteran actor) Naseeruddin Shah. Even though you were credited as the writer of the film, you chose authenticity over fame. You wanted your name off the film's credits but somehow that wasn't to happen. Just before the release of that film, you wrote an open letter and uploaded your original screenplay titled Udaan, on a free for all, public domain. You wanted the reader to read your work directly, for what it is, and not worry about how the film industry could see your move as a 'p.r disaster'. It earned you the title of being 'the writer who is even more difficult to work with, than Naseer himself!'- a (hidden)compliment in a sycophantic industry, that could never perturb truly fearless creators like Naseer and you. The film was tiresomely titled 'Yun Hota To Kya Hota- What If' and after its release, Naseeruddin Shah hung his directorial boots and announced that film making was not his cup of tea. Both you veterans may have cleaned your hands off the film, but you continued to passionately get your hands dirty in the theatre scene.

Of course, the legendary work done by you for Gujarati theatre, be it MAHARATHI or YUGPURUSH is for everyone to know. But why I am writing this on the day you are no more with us, is to deconstruct the child like effervescence that lay inside you and ended up inspiring one and all.

While I had the privilege of working on three of your scripts – FIREWALL, LAKSHMI POOJAN, it was with KARL MARX IN KALBADEVI where our friendship and collaboration truly blossomed.

In 2012, maverick theatre director Manoj Shah embarked upon the impossible idea of introducing Gujarati theatre goers to the philosophy, politics and economics of a 'much misunderstood' 19th century European thinker Karl Marx. The idea was bound to 'fail' commercially, and that is something that has never deterred the director, and it was pure serendipity that you had seen a performance of Howard Zinn's MARX IN SOHO in America. Ideas began to brew between the writer-director duo and I was roped in, as performer purely for my physical proximity to the thinker, my multilingual background and my interest in the 'suicidal' commercial prospects of such an experimental theatre piece. You brought in the 'Gandhi' masterstroke and Manoj rooted it in Kalbadevi of today. The three of us were more than prepared for this quirky, unusual piece to bomb. What resulted was a monster of a monologue, that was later translated to 'Hinglish', and has crossed over a hundred shows in the last 7 years.

Of course, you expressed your minor complaints to Manoj and me through these 7 years - about the improvisational nature of the piece, it's inclusion of contemporary politics, it's free flowing audience interaction etc. But you gave us an unshakeable structure, a foundation on which Marx came into our marketplace and cleared his name.

Last we met, you were brimming with more calculated risks – a contemporary take on Oedipus Rex and a solo piece about Rajneesh. Rajneesh, and not Osho, as I said you hated hagiographies.

Like a true playwright, you always valued brevity, measured every word and deliberated on every punctuation. This untimely exit of yours is entirely our loss, but the playwright in you wins, as you always said in your husky voice, with a glint in your eyes, 'end the scene before the audience expects it to end... keep them wanting for more...'

May you rest in peace Uttam Gada as we keep wanting for more.

*Satchit Puranik is a theatre maker, film maker and performer of KARL MARX IN KALBADEVI, directed by Manoj Shah, written by Uttam Gada

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