(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
There have been endless writings on the exploitation of women in a male dominated society but what sets Tendulkar’s plays apart is that his characters are more than stereotypical victims. Baby, directed by Pritesh Sodha for the 4th day of Thespo is the story of a character who is intriguingly full of contradictions. She lives with an emotionally and sexually abusive man. But she puts up with abuse for the security and shelter he provides her with. Her brother is mentally challenged and having nowhere to go becomes a party to the victimization his sister has agreed to endure. Baby believes that she has managed to protect her hopes and dreams from the darkness of her life. It is only when she meets another man who she seeks to love, that she realizes how deep the oppression has seeped into her psyche. She finds herself compulsively subservient in behavior. The depths of the play are full of possibilities and the ambiguities of character and plot on the surface are only to encourage deep diving. There is a possibility that her sense of self has been so brutally distorted that she is unable to think of herself as anything more than an object of pleasure and service. There is also a feeling that in reality she might be just as oppressed by her own innate masochistic tendencies as she is by a sadistic man. At no point does Tendulkar explain or moralize. He does not sift black from white for the comfort of his audience. There is a clear message against male domination but there is also a look at how women may be a party to sustaining it. Baby earns to sustain the house she shares with her oppressor. That financial independence does not necessarily translate to freedom from social oppression for women, is an important observation. But Tendulkar also suggests that her own insecurity and world view might prohibit her from rescuing herself from this extreme horror. Once again he attacks the middle class hypocrisy and morality with this play. Male-female relationships glorified by the institution of marriage are stripped of the frills and seen as driven by instinct and necessity. His characters make choices that would be morally unacceptable in the cultured and civil society. The monotony of the violence in the play has led many a critic to accuse Tendulkar of sensationalizing sex and violence. But the honest and reactionary nature of his writing defeats such criticism. Its extremity alienates the audience. They are jolted out of the comfort of merely sympathizing with the character. What is put up on stage is so gruesome that you have no choice but to get angry and want Baby to put up a fight or completely disconnect yourself from what you are watching. If a content analysis of his plays were to be done, most of the story is in the form of stage directions for gestures, movement, lights and sound. This leaves little for the director to do in terms of form but the depth of the writing does allow scope for interpretation of the content. Sodha’s set, direction and light design is chip of the old block of Marathi theatre. He may have departed from stage instructions here and there but other than that his production dutifully toes the line of the script. One is grateful for this for nothing is allowed to come in between Tendulkar’s genius and his audience. But it also makes one wonder why a script written in early seventies, however relevant it might be today, is being performed for the nth time in the same way.