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Vijay Tendulkar, voice of social stage, is dead

Mumbai/Pune, May 19: Writer and playwright Vijay Tendulkar, whose bold depiction of socially controversial themes changed traditional Marathi theatre, died in Pune this morning.

He was 80 and was suffering from myasthenia gravis — a muscular disorder.

Tendulkar — who was in hospital for the past month and a half — was in a “critical” condition yesterday after he slipped into a coma and had to be put on life support.

He breathed his last at 8 this morning.

The playwright, who was born in 1928, is survived by daughters Sushma and Tanuja. He was cremated in Pune without rituals or funeral speeches, as was his wish.

“He was an intensely private man. It was his wish that his last moments should not be covered by the media. So, when his family told me about it, I requested TV crews camping at the hospital to respect his last wish and they agreed. This part of his personality was very overwhelming,” said Amol Palekar, who made his acting debut in Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The court is on) and directorial debut with Aakriet — both Tendulkar screenplays.

Personal tragedies in his later years, especially the death of actress-daughter Priya Tendulkar, affected him deeply. He lost his wife Nirmala and cinematographer son Raju in 2001 and daughter Priya a year later.

Tendulkar has left behind a rich body of work, including 28 full-length plays, seven collections of one-act plays, six collections of children’s plays, four collections of short stories, two biographies and 19 award-winning films.

Among them are Shyam Benegal’s Nishant and Manthan; Govind Nihalani’s Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, Aakrosh, Aagha and Ardha Satya; Amol Palekar’s Aakriet; Jabbar Patel’s Marathi films Samana, Simhasan and Umbartha and Jug Mundhra’s Kamala.

His plays became synonymous with the experimental theatre movement in Marathi. Gidhade (Vultures, 1961), Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (1967), Ghashiram Kotwal, Sakharam Binder (1972) and Purush brought national recognition to Marathi theatre.

The bold and shocking display of graphic violence and sexuality sparked controversies that dogged Tendulkar.

A political satire set in 18th-century Pune, Ghashiram Kotwal had references to Maratha statesman Nanasaheb Phadnavis, the Peshwa of Pune, and his depiction as a womaniser angered conservative Brahmins. The musical, however, had more than 6,000 shows and remains one of the longest running Indian plays.

Tendulkar endeared himself to art house filmmakers like Benegal and Nihalani to produce some of the best political films in the country that starred some of the finest actors.

He received the Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1970, the Padma Bhushan in 1984, and the Kalidas Samman in 1999.

Nihalani, whose early films were scripted by the playwright, said: “Tendulkar gave a certain direction to new cinema when we were starting out. His vision and his engagement with the reality of the period gave a direction not just in terms of content but also form. That would be his contribution to Indian cinema.”

During the making of Ardha Satya, Tendulkar had written a different ending, but accepted the ending suggested by Nihalani. “I shot two endings and then we saw the film together. After seeing both the endings, he said he agreed with the ending I suggested where Anant Welankar (Om Puri) surrenders to police. He had an open mind.”

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