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Satish Alekar

‘Staging a play’ is referred to as prayog in Marathi. A word that also means ‘to experiment’. Perhaps the reason for this is that Marathi theatre has seen playwrights who, through every play and piece of art of theirs, have truly experimented with the medium. Senior theatre artist Satish Alekar is one such talented writer, director and actor who is always ready to experiment with his plays. Although he first encountered theatre as a child, the story of his actual entry in the world of theatre is quite intriguing.


His father was a freedom fighter and his mother was a member of Congress, which meant that he grew up in a revolutionary and forward-minded family. Both his parents were also theatre enthusiasts. The first play that Satish Alekar ever watched was Pu La Deshpande’s Varyavarchi Varaat. However, till he went to college Alekar’s relationship with theatre remained limited to just watching plays.


Upset about being unable to secure a seat in a medical college, he started watching rehearsals of different plays to take his mind off things. Unexpectedly one day, Bhalba Kelkar chose Alekar to be part of one of his plays. Having been a dedicated theatregoer so far, he was now set to take his place on stage in front of the audience.


Art is a reflection of society and the positive and negative changes happening in it. The power to influence or evoke emotions in the public lies only in art. Alekar recognised this power and went on to create work of great quality through his writing. 


Jhulta Pool was the first play he ever wrote. Despite being an independent country for many years, India still faced the problems of inequality, discrimination and a widening gap in the economic classes. Alekar presented this bitter truth through his play in an entertaining and satirical manner. His play Mahanirvan is an excellent example of a black comedy not just in Marathi theatre, but in Indian theatre at large. It forced the common man to look at himself from a different and more neutral perspective. This form that is rarely used and difficult to stage was the focal point of Mahanirvan. It is possibly the only play that precisely portrays the society’s notions about death, the rituals associated with it, the satire and contradictions that arise from it, and the society’s collective thought process. 


Through Begum Barve Alekar told the story of a male artist and stage professional who performed female roles in musical plays in the early 20th century. The core of this play is so universal that it was performed in Rajasthani, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Konkani, Tamil and Kannada. The Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Georgia invited Alekar to stage this play in English in the year 2005.


Apart from Mahapoor, Alekar has directed all the plays he has written. In addition to writing original plays, he adapted foreign plays for the Indian audience as well. He wrote many popular one-act plays like Judge, Bhinta, Valan, Aalshi Attarwalyachi Goshta, Supari, Karmachari, Saamna, and Bhajan, some of which have been translated into other languages.


Furthermore, he has done the valuable work of shaping new artists while serving the art form himself. Along with Dr Mohan Agashe, Jabbar Patel, and a few more artists, Alekar established the Theatre Academy on 27th March 1973. He was also a professor at Lalit Kala Kendra in Pune from 1996 to 2009. During his tenure as the principal of Lalit Kala Kendra, he also mentored artists who are currently leading the theatre and film industries. A special aspect of his journey as an educator is his global influence. Having organised many a writing workshop around the world, Alekar has become a well known guide among creative circles everywhere. Students look forward to his lectures quite eagerly.


Just like he did on the stage, Alekar has also left a mark on the audio-visual medium. Although vastly different from each other, the core of both theatre and film is the creation of an illusion. Jait Re Jait, a movie for which Alekar wrote the dialogues and the screenplay is a true gem of Indian cinema. He also directed the television series Dekho Magar Pyaar Se.


Throughout his journey, Alekar has received multiple awards and accolades. Some of them are the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1994, the Padma Shri in 2012, and the Balraj Sahni Memorial Award in 2013. 


His plays have been included in ‘National Anthologies’ published by the NSD and Sahitya Akademi. Due to the experimental nature of his plays, Alekar is known as a ‘modern theatre maker’ even among the new generation of theatre professionals. An excellent example of this is his recently published play Thakishi Samvad. When theatres closed down during the Covid-19 pandemic, Alekar brought this play into people’s homes. He had QR codes printed wherever there were songs or music in the play. The readers could scan the QR codes and listen to the music while reading the play: an experience they enjoyed thoroughly! Alekar’s energy, despite having had such a long career, is a true inspiration to the new generation.


Team Thespo is honoured to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to this great and celebrated artist.

Written by Ritika Shrotri | Translated by Tanvi Kotkar

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