Written in the 70s and staged first in 1980, Vijay Tendulkar’s Mitrachi Goshta is a play way ahead of its time, radical for the time it was written and staged in. My introduction to it is through its English translation by Gowri Ramnarayan. And I have to say that I was riveted through the reading and am deeply moved in the end just by the sheer humanness of each character in the play.
The play is mainly about Bapu (a FYBA student) and his friend Sumitra (Mitra) a charismatic, bold, tomboyish girl, 1 year his senior in college. In the times when homosexuality was unknown or unacknowledged or looked at as a serious ailment, this play is story of Mitra’s coming out, with Bapu as her only friend and confidant. Frontline described Mitrachi Goshta as “the first Indian play on same-sex relations”. It is worth noting here that the IPC section 377 that criminalized gay sex was revoked in September 2018.
“He (Tendulkar) didn’t take the easy way out. He chose not to represent homosexuality through men. He deliberately chose women. So, if you see, it was a multifold commentary, that extended beyond homosexuality and even spoke about the liberation of women in that era,” said Deepa Gahlot, head of theatre and film at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in a Hindustan Times piece in 2015 upon its revival in English.
Mitra is brash, impulsive, confident, go getter yet emotionally fragile, obsessive compulsive. Bapu is a ‘good boy’ wanting to help Mitra yet continuously second guessing his actions. The other characters in the play – Bapu’s roommate Pande, Mitra’s obsession Nama, Nama’s boyfriend Dalvi – too are vignettes of characteristics. And then there is Mitra’s bicycle and cigarettes (objects correlating her freedom/ liberation and addiction). I was amazed at how deftly the playwright managed to show me the reader, certain situations in the play from every character’s perspective. Thus although this story is Mitra’s story of realizing, accepting and then living her reality of being ‘different’, it is also a story of her obsession. It is story of Bapu’s loyalty and his meekness, of Pande’s objectification of girls and his ‘big heart’ and ‘gentleman’s word’, of Nama’s being a stereotypical female and making unusual life choices of being involved in a same-sex relationship with Mitra, of Dalvi’s toxic masculinity and his gentlemanly behavior especially with Bapu.
Rohini Hattangady, who played Mitra in the very beginning (the first act once set was seen by Vijay Tendulkar and only after his approval, could the development progress further), writes in her note:
“All the characters in Mitrachi Goshta create a great tragic experience. The playwright tries to understand Mitra through Bapu. As Bapu fails, so do we! The end is inevitable!”
Only if great plays, like this, could start conversations on important subjects and general public, with open minds and hearts, could actually participate in these conversations – active listening – process – reflect – express empathetically (on a loop) – can we hope to have a healthy, diverse, progressive society. If not, we will have a society with its own prejudices and avant-garde plays and playwrights. My respects to Vijay Tendulkar – what a writer!