Satish Alekar's New Play

Vidyadhar Date

A new play by Satish Alekar after a long time! The protagonist is a simple, lonely, old man who does not take any position on politics, neither Left nor Right, but through his life Alekar makes a very subtle commentary on politics, particularly post 2014.

Alekar had the first reading of the play, THAKISHI SAMWAD, before a knowledgeable theatre audience after the release of a collection of his plays by Bhalchandra Nemade, Jnanpith award winner, on September 25.

I have seen Alekar's work since his first play MICKEY ANI MEMSAHEB, presented in the state government drama competition in Ravindra Natya Mandir in 1973. He is also a very good director, actor and reader of his plays. It is a measure of the technological change since those days that he read the play from his laptop. Alekar is a full theatre person, knows it from all angles and has taught theatre, so the reading was engrossing, effective.

His strength as also of Tendulkar and Karnad is in having a solid understanding of Indian tradition, culture and literature, various nuances mixed with a very modern sensibility.

The play was written during the Covid pandemic and it begins with reflection on Ram Ganesh Gadkari, the renowned playwright who survived the Spanish flu in Pune in 1918. Gadkari did remarkable work in his short life, could spend some time fishing in the river in Pune in those less hurried days The protagonist, now approaching 80, living all alone, recalls life since then. The play makes a deep impact, it does not have plot as such, it is very subtle with numerous literary, cultural, political references from ancient times. After his initial monologue, enters his assistant Thaki, simple but very devoted woman who nurses him till his sad death at home due to Covid. The Covid part is very moving, the simple, old man, does one heroic act, he refuses to take oxygen and wants it to be used for a younger person.

Alekar makes an allegorical use of the Kargota, a silk thread, traditionally worn in different parts of India around the waist and in different ways in other cultures. It is perhaps symbol of common thread that has bound us over generations but that whole way of life is now threatened by the events after 2014. Gadkari passes on the thread to Diwakar the playwright, his contemporary and friend, who in turn passes it on to D.B Mokashi, acclaimed writer, he gives it to Vijay Tendulkar, who admired him greatly.

Alekar was ably helped in the presentation with music and screen effects by Pravin Bhole, director of Lalit Kala Kendra, the university theatre department of Phule university in Pune.

This year also marks fifty years of the acclaimed play GHASHIRAM KOTWAL directed by Jabbar Patel who was present on the occasion. Interestingly, the idea for the play was suggested to Tendulkar by Bhalchndra Nemade.

Many theatre stalwarts of Pune, like them, owe their career building to the prestigious Purshottam Karandak cup drama competition begun way back in 1963 in memory of Purshottam Vaze.

Interestingly a controversy is currently on in theatre circles because last week, the judges for the recent Purshottam cup contest, including Paressh Mokashi, declared that they did not find any play in the contest worthy of the first prize.

Ramdas Bhatkal, 86 year old veteran of Popular Prakashan, publishers of several prominent playwrights, said theatre books do not sell so well. Even GHASHIRAM KOTWAL took more than a decade to go into the second edition. Bhatkal has played a leading role in the theatre and literary life of the state. He is more than a publisher, he has a very keen understanding of culture and is cultural figure in his own right. Popular completes a century in two years.

(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and culture critic)

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