The recently concluded Prithvi Festival 2013 held at the now famous Prithvi theatre in the suburb of Juhu in Mumbai has certainly proved to one and all that theatre in India is certainly alive and kicking. What was also quite apparent during this festival was the wide range of plays performed. So be it Salesman Ramlal (an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman) performed and directed by the talented Satish Kaushik or, Dear Liar a play based on a George Bernard Shaw and performed by the great Nasseruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah the variety provided during this festival was clearly evident. So with the theatre scene in India today vibrant as ever the question to be asked is who were the modern Indian playwrights who have been responsible for preserving the legacy of theatre in India and how did they rise?
It was basically post independence that the modern Indian playwright first came into existence in the Indian theatre. With traditional Indian plays mostly dealing with mythological stories and, the plays performed during the British Raj dealing with nationalism. This resulted in the urgent need for plays that dealt about real social issues prevailing within the Indian society during the post independence era and, which became the priority for many playwrights. Which in turn led to the rise of a few modern Indian playwrights within the country and who slowly but steadily became a symbol of the modern Indian theatre. Although there were many playwrights who were a part of the modern Indian theatre there were mainly five Indian playwrights who during the post independence era became the flag bearer for all modern Indian playwrights all over the country. These playwrights are as follows:
1. Vijay Tendulkar:
If there ever was an Indian playwright who managed to use violence beautifully through his plays then it has to be the great Vijay Tendulkar. Using Marathi his mother tongue as a language of communicating he not only wrote plays pertaining the use and effect of violence on humans but he also wrote on social issues prevailing in the society at that time. Apart from social issues or use of violence he also dealt with machinations of power politics which is clearly evident in some of his classic plays such as Ghashiram Kotwal(1972/73) and Shantata Court Chalu Ahe(1968). He has also written some of the most powerful scripts for movies of note is the Govind Nihalani masterpiece “Ardhasatya”. He also wrote one play in English titled “His Fifth Woman” in 2004. So with a number of classic plays in Marathi to his name Vijay Tendulkar will certainly be remembered as a modern Indian playwright who tried to expose the social realities in the Indian society and for this very reason his legacy shall forever remain embedded in the rich history of modern Indian theatre.
2. Girish Karnad:
With regards to the use of mythology and history in plays to deal with issues within the society there has been no better playwright in India than Girish Karnad to have done so. Even though he was born in Maharashtra he used Kannada as the medium of communication which also happens to be the language of his adopted hometown. With plays such as Tughlaq which was based on 14th century Sultan of Delhi or Yayati which was based on a story from the epic Mahabharata he has certainly managed to merge myth with reality with great aplomb. Although in the later years he did switch over from using myth and history in his plays to social realism which is clearly evident in play such as “Maduve Album or Wedding Album” with equal ease as his earlier works. With him having also acted in several Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi movies he certainly is a man with multiple talents and most definitely one the finest modern Indian playwrights ever to have graced Indian theatre.
3. Mohan Rakesh:
The Hindi theatre has always played an important role in the history of the great Indian theatre tradition and, the one Hindi playwright who has been its flag bearer is the great Mohan Rakesh. With plays such as Adhe Adhure and Ashadh ka ek din to his credit he is certainly one of the pioneers of the so called “ Nahi Kahani” movement in the Hindi theatre. With most of his plays dealing with social realism which is relevant even today his name shall forever be etched in the golden chapters of the modern Indian theatre.
4. Badal Sircar:
When it comes to plays related to anti-establishment in India then there is no playwright better than Bengal’s Badal Sircar. Here was a rare playwright who wrote plays which were anti-government that too very successfully. So be it his landmark play Ebong Indrajit, or plays such as Pagla Ghoda, Shesh Naai he has certainly made lasting impression as a playwright of repute in not only Bengali theatre but Indian theatre as well. In 1967 he also formed his own theatre group called “Shatabdi” which went on to perform several plays in years to follow. He is also considered the pioneer of experimental theatre in India. So with Sircar having written a number of great Bengali plays over the years his legacy as a playwright of high esteem will certainly live on in the hearts of theatre lovers all over the country.
5. Mahesh Elkunchwar:
In Marathi theatre if there has ever been any playwright after the great Vijay Tendulkar to have carried on the tradition of the modern Indian playwright then it has to be Mahesh Elkunchwar. Here is yet another playwright whose plays reflected the social realism that exists in the society. He also used a variety of dramatic expressions such as realistic, symbolic, expressionist, and absurd theatre quite effectively to tell his story. So with plays such as Party and Holi to his credit (coincidentally also made into movies by the same name) Eklunchwar has certainly proved his worth not only as a great modern playwright in his native language Marathi but also as a great modern Indian playwright.
So, in conclusion one has to admit that the above mentioned five great Indian playwrights have certainly been responsible in changing the traditional form of Indian theatre into what is now popularly known as the modern Indian theatre. With many of these playwrights masterpieces been performed on stage repeatedly or some having also been converted into feature films the legacy of these playwrights are certain to live on in the minds of genuine theatre lovers all over the country.