When Ghashiram Kotwal first competed for the Maharashtra state awards, its innovative combination of music, choreography and analytical design so baffled the judges that they couldn’t decide whether it was legitimate theatre. Half a century later, it stands unexcelled for the sheer brilliance of its artistry. Anyone who has ever been involved in such an enterprise knows the amount of preliminary discussion, rewriting and revision that such a complex work demands. But amazingly, Ghashiram Kotwal arrived readymade and complete. The production followed the text exactly, playing every detail as Tendulkar wrote it—a tribute to the precision of Tendulkar’s conceptualising.
What makes the play so unique is also its prophetic quality. The plot concerns Nana Phadnavis, the 18th-century ruler of Pune, who tries to create a puppet for his own little games, only to realise that he has given birth to a monster who may swallow him up. The play predicted, with terrifying accuracy, the Indira Gandhi-Sant Bhindranwale dance of death, 11 years in advance of the events. The Shiv Sena, claiming the play vilified a Maratha hero, tried to stop it from being sent abroad.
Girish Karnad writes on Vijay Tendulkar, who passed away last month. and his plays. For me, it was Aakrosh, for which he wrote the screenplay, that will remain etched forever with its last scene in which the tribal character played by Om Puri lets out a cry… and one discovers that his tongue has been cut off. Rahul Banerjee’s book Recovering the Lost Tongue, too traces its title to that movie.