Theatre

Led by the script

Mahesh Elkunchwar.  

What marks the renowned playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar off from the conventional themes of modern theatre writing is his experiments with varied dramatic expressions of slices of life, socio-cultural space with human angles and psychological analysis of characters, with themes ranging from creativity to sterility to death and life as a whole. The 72-year-old retired Professor of English from Nagpur concentrates now on writing essays. The Marathi writer with commercially successful plays like “Holi”, “Party”, “Atmakatha”, apart from masterpieces like “Wada Chirabandi”, “Virasat”, “Raktapushp”, “Yatanaghar” and many more, has received innumerable awards. Prolific he may seem, but Elkunchwar, who recently paid a short visit to Kolkata, says he has always engaged with the art world on his own terms. . Excerpts from an interview:

Was it because of Tendulkar's influence that you wrote a play and not a novel?

No, no (laughs) it wasn't an influence or such things. I didn't even know I would be a writer till 1965. I read a lot but never thought of writing till one fine evening I drifted into an auditorium where a Tendulkar play was on. I watched and thought maybe I could do something like that and write. So I wrote a one-act ,which was published by a very prestigious magazine and they asked me to continue. So I went on writing. I published five short plays, then I received a letter from Vijaya Mehta saying that she wanted to do those plays. Then I realised that maybe I was writing something stage-worthy. When I began Tendulkar loomed large on the ramp. It was really difficult and you needed a strong willpower not to write like him. But right from the very beginning, being a very egoistical person, I would rather fail than write like Tendulkar.

How do you conceive a play?

I cannot predetermine what I am going to write about. I begin with an image. I do not prepare, I do not decide to write ‘on' anything. Something happens — maybe some acoustical image, some visual image hits me, it moors me and I want to write about it. I am not even sure how it will be. I will give you two instances of this. “Wada Chirabandi” and “Virasat”, two very known plays: I didn't know I would write them. In fact before “Wada” I had taken a rest for seven years. I thought that was the end of my career. I was talking to Satyadev Dubey and he told me the story of a feudal family he knew. This family had bought a tractor and they never used it. The tractor got sunk into the ground and the family had miserable economic conditions. When I came back to Nagpur, I stared writing and suddenly the scenes started growing into other scenes and it became a play, “Virasat”! The characters stared coming on the stage and suddenly I saw a family. No, it is not my family! It is very commonly believed it is, but it is absolutely not! But I knew the ethos, I knew the lifestyle, because I come from that milieu. Another is “Wada”. I am a great fan of Rabindra Sangeet. I was listening to “Aji Jhadher Raatey” by Irfat Ara Khan, and I visualised this one single character centre-stage dying. So I started writing and finished the play within 24 hours. I didn't have any second draft. Now this not magic or a miracle, it happened. That does not mean I do not make a second or third draft. The “Virasat” you see is the third draft. “Holi” didn't need redrafting. I have written consistently but never been a prolific writer. I had a cushy job, lived comfortably and when that left me a little time I wrote, and that's why I didn't have to make compromises. I didn't want to alter my life at the altar of Art.

Your style?

I do not choose styles. Once you begin writing then you begin to deal with all the questions that crop up while negotiating with this particular style. It is always a process of discovery. Writing a play becomes always a step forward in this new journey and it has never become a stale thing for me because one is always discovering new territories. It's like a canoe, you release it in a big river and you expect that “ agey mor ageyga”, next bend pe I‘ll see this, this… Suddenly the bend doesn't come, the canoe goes in a different direction and there is something else which was unexpected. It doesn't matter, that is the beauty and joy of journey. This unexpectedness is the most joyous thing that can happen to a writer.

You refuse to be judgemental about your characters...

Jaaa! That is a very uncivilised thing to do, being judgemental about people. In personal life also I don't like to pass judgement on people. People have their own inner lives which are not accessible to me and behave in a particular way which may not be accepted socially but my sympathies are with them because they don't know the compulsions which make them behave as they do. Maybe the same attitude is reflected in my work. Who am I to be judgemental, am I any different? Maybe I have made mistakes in life! And have been forgiven by the world and forgiven myself.

How did you conceive “Rudravarsha”?

(Laughs) Oh that is my first indiscretion. I don't think about it anymore. I wrote it when I was 25. It is a bad play. I don't even remember the contents anymore.

Is it available in English or Hindi?

My God! I don't even know that the text is available. I am so sorry that it is available it is such a bad play! (Laughs).

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 6:37:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/led-by-the-script/article3452294.ece

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