Satyadev Dubey’s enduring legacy

On stage: Satyadev Dubey during a performance

On stage: Satyadev Dubey during a performance  


In what has become an annual ritual since his death, theatrewallahs mark the passing away of the maverick stage director with conversations and performances

Falling on Christmas day, the death anniversary of theatre doyen Satyadev Dubey is a far from sombre occasion. Seven years on, theatrewalas still gather religiously to celebrate the life and career of a maverick stage director who had touched many lives in the theatre and beyond. Of late, the venue for this collective remembrance has shifted from Prithvi Theatre to Studio Tamaasha, an alternative venue that has been forged in the spirit of the erstwhile Chhabildas Hall, where Dubey mounted some of his most significant experimental works.

Passion for drama

The ‘Celebrating Dubey’ events have been spearheaded by some of the doyen’s foremost protégés like Sunil Shanbag, Hidayat Sami and Trishla Patel, and promise, as is now a customary ritual, conversations and performances over chai and sheera, in which generations of theatrewalas come together. Some of the more compelling moments over the years have been provided by acts based on personal encounters with Dubey, whose eccentricities provided fodder for many a misadventure, especially in his later years.

For instance, Sanjay Dadhich’s endearing account of a train journey with Dubey gave us a good measure of the man, warts and all. D Santosh’s piece, about visiting Dubey in hospital while he was ill, was both irreverent and respectful, homage to Dubey’s own biting candour that brooked no favors in his lifetime. It is no mean task to keep a legacy alive when it comes to the most ephemeral of arts, but these events have become oral repositories of stories, anecdotes and testimonials that keep the torch aflame in no uncertain manner. More than a cult of personality that Dubey himself would’ve scorned at, it is his unbridled passion for theatre that brims to the surface.

Rich repertoire

In a ‘foundry space’ like Chhabildas, Dubey could create ‘theatre in the rough’ that yielded many gems such as the 1972 staging of Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana, featuring Sunila Pradhan, Amrish Puri and Amol Palekar. This was one of the earliest stagings of one of Karnad’s most-performed works. Dubey’s directorial efforts often foregrounded the dilemmas and conflicts of women in a way never experienced before. Shanta Gokhale described Dubey’s approach as having “an understanding and sympathy that verged on bias.” The long association with Awishkar Theatre, the proprietors of Chhabildas, finds echoes in the play, Inshallah, Dubey’s semi-autobiographical play which was revived in 2014 by Awishkar. The Dubey that emerges in this work, as essayed by Sushil Inamdar, is still radical and angry, but undeniably charismatic, with his ideological outbursts counter-balanced by the other characters in the play.

In recent years, it has been possible to piece together and archive Dubey’s limited oeuvre in cinema, as an actor and scriptwriter. His only feature film as director was 1971’s Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, a Marathi film based on the play by Vijay Tendulkar, which featured Awishkar co-founder Sulabha Deshpande in the career-defining turn of Leena Benare, an actor in a mock-trial who bears the brunt of much moralising when real tensions spill over into a rehearsal space. As an actor, Dubey’s casting as Chanakya in Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj was a masterstroke. His own short film, Aparichay ke Vindhachal marked him out as a dynamic screen presence that perhaps could’ve been utilised with more flair by the filmmakers of those times. Landmark films like Bhumika and Mandi were based on screenplays by Dubey.

Reading series

The event will also feature another iteration of the venue’s signature reading series. Sibylle Berg’s Dog, Woman, Man, will be showcased in the mien of a rehearsed reading in a version translated and directed by Abhinav Grover, who had completed a ten-day residency at the studio earlier this year. It certainly has an interesting premise: “A dog narrates the odd behaviour between a man and woman who have bound themselves to one another even though neither can stand the other's company.”

Celebrating Dubey will take place today at 6 p.m. at Studio Tamaasha, Andheri West; for more details email:

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 1:28:13 AM |

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