(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
Atul Pethe’s documentary explores the overt and covert expressions of violence in Tendulkar’s plays like Ghashiram Kotwal, Gidhade, Sakharam Binder and Shantata by piecing together interviews of the man himself and his famous contemporaries like Vijaya Mehta, Dr. Lagoo, Nilu Phule, G.P.Deshpande, Ram Bapat and Satyadev Dubey.
The presentation and format of the film is elementary but the investigation aims to be thorough. The idea is to understand the influences and process of thought, philosophy and creation in a man who is nothing short of a legend of our times.
His contemporaries mostly discuss their understanding of his works from a close vantage point. The real fodder for thought is in their more critical bytes, largely because those are the only quarters from which criticism against Tendulkar will be tolerated in the literary circles. His supporters have gradually turned as vehement as his detractors used to be when he emerged as a radical provocateur of social conscience in the 50’s. Bapat and Mehta in particular do not mince words in expressing their opinion on his reluctance to take more active ideological stands on issues.
Tendulkar himself speaks with practiced candour on his writing. He is not afraid of being questioned or judged but the interviewer Makrand Sathe, for all his research stops short of digging for more than enthusiasts already know.
Tendulkar was foremost, a journalist. This is reflected in the absence of absurdity, cynicism and even a pointed stand in some of his works. Not all his plays were masterpieces. Even those that were may have lost some sheen to sentimentality and time. But they remain important as works that reflect the history, psychology and morality of a society and its art through the most important years in the birth of our nation.
The real meat is in some rare archival footage of his plays and the moments when we can look over a writer we know to see a man who inspires with what he reveals and conceals. The real ‘greatness’ of Tendulkar lies in being a middle class man who dared to question and did not let the stature of his legend overshadow his quest to make sense out of our times. There is a strong case to be made in favour of imbibing that spirit irrespective of what talent one may have or lack. He believed that the important thing was to observe- anyone could write.
In the film, he is still growing, assimilating, thinking and angry- as alive as most people can only aspire to be. That is why watching this film a month or so after his demise might pinch. Death rarely takes away so much.