Direction : Shritij Patwardhan
Writer : Shritij Patwardhan
Cast : Girija Oak Godbole, Rohit Haldikar & Jitendra Joshi


Ujwala Karmarkar

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DON SPECIAL, written and directed by Kshtij Patwardhan, is based on a story titled News Story by H.M. Marathe. The play is located in the offices of a newspaper on a cold winter night and the conversation flows over numerous cups of tea (special chai); hence the title.

The story is set in 1989, before the age of the Internet and the era of 'breaking news'. Lives, reputations and headlines were often suspended in the hiatus of an editor's decision of what to publish and what to suppress. The time lag between the clatter of the fax from the news agency and converting it into a headline often made all the difference.

The male protagonist, Milind Bhagwat, is the associate editor of a Marathi newspaper, and has a reputation for being ethical. His ethical stand has fetched him awards and acclaim, but little financial returns. The play opens with Milind Bhagwat's night shift. His pecuniary problems are evident in the conversations with his wife over the phone, as he appears to be struggling to pay his father's medical bills. But his dedication to his job is equally evident as is his reputation for concise, honest and often, acerbic style of reporting. Milind is preparing a big story.

As he plans the three- column, front page news story, for which he has substantial evidence, and which in his eyes, is a bitter crime, his ex-colleague and former girlfriend Shweta Jog walks in, ostensibly to check on her old associates. She does not expect Milind Bhagwat to be the night-editor. Milind is bitter at her abrupt departure from his life ten years ago, apparently with no explanation. But he is courteous, because she was also his colleague and protege.

Shweta's hidden agenda for this visit is soon revealed. Shweta tries her best to convince Milind to see her point of view but Milind remains uncompromising. No amount of cajoling or blackmail will change his course of action. The meeting lays bare old wounds. Milind's bitterness at Shweta's abrupt departure from his life, his frustration with lack of autonomy in his job, and financial and personal struggles mount up.

The dilemmas faced by an honest man trying to do his job in an ethical manner are highlighted in his dialogue with his erstwhile protege and love.

The clock ticks on and the hour to send the front page to the press for its final layout draws closer. In desperation, Shweta reveals certain truths about her life. Milind now fervently wishes that he could help her. But will he compromise on his ethics? Will he arrive at a solution that will preserve his honesty as well as safeguard Shweta's future? Will the frustrated lover triumph over the honest reporter?

The only jarring note is that the play's gravitas fades into the emotional drama of two lovers. It becomes long-drawn. Perhaps some explanation of the past was needed between the lovers, but the writer has spent too much time in this convoluted side-plot, instead of proceeding with the plot in hand.

Rohit Haldikar as Milind Bhagwat and Girija Oak Godbole as Shweta Jog bring alive their respective characters. Jitendra Joshi ably supports them as the star struck Umesh, who aspires to be a journalist and steals a bit of the thunder with his performance.

Pradeep Mulye who is in charge of the stage and lighting, and Anmol Bhave who has managed the sound system, have done a great job of recreating the ambience of a news-office with the incessant sound of the printer, occasional clacking of the news agency fax and the sounds of the street at night-time. Careful detailing of the late eighties period is evident in the design.

The situation surrounding the three-column, front-page news is resolved in a rather tragic, though unexpected manner that highlights the superficial nature of our priorities and the double standards of the world we live in. Although set in 1989, Milind's dilemmas are just as relevant today, perhaps even more so.

*Ujwala Karmakar is an Anaesthesiologist by profession. She likes to watch plays, read, and listen to music among other things. Ujwala has also been writing on women's issues, parenting, travel, etc.

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