Satish Alekar’s best plays are like jigsaw puzzles in which not all the pieces are designed to fit in exactly. Some do, some don’t seem to, but no piece is random. The action often proceeds at a tangent to what the words are saying; the narrative gets refracted through subplots which seem unrelated. But the total effect is unified and disturbing. Alekar’s sensibility is shaped by his Brahminism with all its certainties as well as lacerating self doubts, by the vibrant heritage of his Pune ransacked by politicians, and by the rich lore of the musical theatre in Marathi which did not outlast its stars. Alekar exploits the multiple traditions he has inherited, wallowed in and resented to produce some of the most powerful plays of [the] modern Indian stage. This quote on the back of the volume of six plays by veteran Marathi playwright Satish Alekar (b. 1949), from fellow playwright Girish Karnad, points to an interesting position occupied by one who, though recognized as one of the leading Marathi playwrights, at the same time presents a bit of a puzzle to those who would like to categorise his work.
Are his plays social critique or black comedy? Surrealism, farce or theatre of the absurd? Part of the tradition of musical theatre or subversions of the form? Hard to pinpoint, as Karnad indicates. Alekar himself traces his theatrical lineage with precision. In the interview in this book he claims a closeness to the playwright Diwakar (Shankar Kashinath Garge, 1889–1931), known for his dramatic monologues and black humour. Childhood exposure to the children’s theatre of Sai Paranjape, which he describes as ‘urban fantasies’ and P.L. Deshpande’s short plays for children, left a lasting impact, as did the fantasy world of children’s literature and Hindi cinema. Next came the Sangeet Natak, films at FTII and the National Film Archive, and intercollegiate short play competitions. Alongside this was the input provided by his maternal uncle Vitthal Gadgil, an avid theatre fan who introduced him to Olivier’s Hamlet, performances by Alec Guinness and John Gielgud, and plays by Joe Orton and Harold Pinter.It is possible to see all these influences in his plays.
Alekar’s induction into theatre was as a backstage worker; he was also an actor and director before he became a playwright. Alekar claims that, ‘Watching these plays from the wings, I had an image of them that remained with me when I came to write plays; so I could always construct my plays from the reverse end; that is probably one of the reasons why my plays have this dimension of fantasy’. He developed a strong sense of theatre as ‘non-realistic, false. In theatre everything has to be arranged and made up’.