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Vijay Tendulkar (Marathi:विजय तेंडुलकर) (7 January 1928 – 19 May 2008) was a leading Indian playwright, movie and television writer, literary essayist, political journalist, and social commentator primarily in Marāthi. He is best known for his plays, Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (1967), Ghāshirām Kotwāl (1972), and Sakhārām Binder (1972).Many of Tendulkar’s plays derived inspiration from real-life incidents or social upheavals, which provides clear light on harsh realities. He provided his guidance to students studying “Playwright writing” in US universities. For over five decades, Tendulkar had been a highly influential dramatist and theater personality in Mahārāshtra.
Vijay Dhondopant Tendulkar was born on 7 January 1928 in a Bhalavalikar Saraswat brahmin family in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, where his father held a clerical job and ran a small publishing business. The literary environment at home prompted young Vijay to take up writing. He wrote his first story at age six.
He grew up watching western plays, and felt inspired to write plays himself. At age eleven, he wrote, directed, and acted in his first play.
At age 14, he participated in the 1942 Indian freedom movement , leaving his studies. The latter alienated him from his family and friends. Writing then became his outlet, though most of his early writings were of a personal nature, and not intended for publication.
Tendulkar began his career writing for newspapers. He had already written a play, “Āmchyāvar Kon Prem Karnār” (Who will Love us?), and he wrote the play, “Gruhastha” (The Householder), in his early 20s. The latter did not receive much recognition from the audience, and he vowed never to write again . Breaking the vow, in 1956 he wrote “‘Shrimant”, which established him as a good writer. “Shrimant” jolted the conservative audience of the times with its radical storyline, wherein an unmarried young woman decides to keep her unborn child while her rich father tries to “buy” her a husband in an attempt to save his social prestige.
Tendulkar’s early struggle for survival and living for some time in tenements (“chāwls”) in Mumbai provided him first-hand experience about the life of urban lower middle class. He thus brought new authenticity to their depiction in Marathi theater. Tendulkar’s writings rapidly changed the storyline of modern Marathi theater in the 1950s and the 60s, with experimental presentations by theater groups like “Rangāyan”. Actors in these theater groups like Shreerām Lāgoo, Mohan Agāshe, and Sulabhā Deshpānde brought new authenticity and power to Tendulkar’s stories while introducing new sensibilities in Marathi theater.
Tendulkar wrote the play, “Gidhāde” (The Vultures) in 1961, but it was not produced until 1970. The play was set in a morally collapsed family structure and explored the theme of violence. In his following creations, Tendulkar explored violence in its various forms: domestic, sexual, communal, and political. Thus, “Gidhāde” proved to be a turning point in Tendulkar’s writings with regard to establishment of his own unique writing style.
Based on a 1956 short story, “Die Panne” (“Traps”) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Tendulkar wrote the play, “Shāntatā! Court Chālu Aahe” (“Silence! The Court Is In Session”). It was presented on the stage for the first time in 1967, and proved as one of his finest works. Satyadev Dubey presented it in movie form in 1971 with Tendulkar’s collaboration as the screenplay writer.
1970s and ’80s
In his 1972 play, Sakhārām Binder (Sakhārām, the Binder), Tendulkar dealt with the topic of domination of the male gender over the female gender. The main character, Sakhārām, is a man devoid of ethics and morality, and professes not to believe in “outdated” social codes and conventional marriage. He accordingly uses the society for his own pleasure. He regularly gives “shelter” to abandoned wives, and uses them for his sexual gratification while remaining oblivious to the emotional and moral implications of his exploits. He justifies all his acts through claims of modern, unconventional thinking, and comes up with hollow arguments meant in fact to enslave women. Paradoxically, some of the women which Sakhārām had enslaved buy into his arguments and simultaneously also badly want freedom from their enslavement.
In 1972, Tendulkar wrote another, even much more acclaimed play, Ghāshirām Kotwāl (“Ghāshirām, the Constable”), which dealt with political violence. The play is a political satire created as a musical drama set in 18th century Pune. It combined traditional Marathi folk music and drama with contemporary theater techniques, creating a new paradigm for Marathi theater. The play demonstrates Tendulkar’s deep study of group psychology , and it brought him a “Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship” (1974-75) for a project titled, “An Enquiry Into the Pattern of Growing Violence in Society and Its Relevance to Contemporary Theatre”. With over six thousand performances thus far in its original and translated versions, “Ghāshirām Kotwāl” remains one of the longest-running plays in the history of Indian theater.
Tendulkar wrote screenplays for the movies Nishānt (1974), Ākrosh (The Cry) (1980), and Ardh Satya (The Half-Truth) (1984), established him as an important “Chronicler of Violence” of the present times. He has written eleven movies in Hindi and eight movies in Marathi. The latter include Sāmanā (“Confrontation”) (1975), Simhāasan (“Throne”) (1979), and Umbarthā (“The Threshold”) (1981). The last one is a groundbreaking feature film on women’s activism in India. It was directed by Jabbar Patel, and stars Smitā Pātil and Girish Karnād.
1990s and beyond
In 1991, Tendulkar wrote a metaphorical play, “Safar”, and in 2001 he wrote the play, “The Masseur”. He wrote, next, two novels, “Kādambari: Ek” and “Kādambari: Don”, about sexual fantasies of an aging man. In 2004, he wrote a single-act play, “‘His Fifth Woman” –his first play in the English language—as a sequel to his earlier exploration of the plight of women in “Sakhārām Binder”. This play was first performed at the “Vijay Tendulkar Festival” in New York in October 2004.
In the 1990s, Tendulkar wrote an acclaimed TV series, “SwayamSiddha”, in which his daughter, Priyā Tendulkar, performed in the lead role.
Tendulkar died in Pune on 19 May 2008, battling the effects of myasthenia gravis. Tendulkar’s son Raja and wife Nirmala had died earlier in 2001, his daughter Priya having died the next year (2002) of cancer.
Following the post-Godhra communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, Tendulkar had reacted by saying that “If I had a pistol, I would shoot Narendra Modi” (for encouraging the carnage by Hindus against Muslims). This reaction of Tendulkar had evoked mixed reactions, local Modi supporters burning his effigies while others lauding his remark.
Later, when he was asked if it was not strange that he, who was known as a strong voice against death penalty, had a death wish for Modi, Tendulkar had said that “it was spontaneous anger, which I never see as a solution for anything. Anger doesn’t solve problems.”