Much like William Shakespeare, Marathi writer Vijay Tendulkar’s plays have transcended time and territory. Perhaps Tendulkar’s most enduring work has been Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe or Khamosh! Adalat Jaari Hai or Silence! The Court Is In Session. It has captivated viewers through generations largely because of its immense social relevance -- cruelty against women, especially single women, a societal evil that still permeates human thinking, irrespective of caste or colour or creed.
First performed in 1968 in Bombay, the play, directed by Arvind Deshpande, was later adapted to film and helmed by Satyadev Dubey. The movie saw so many firsts: actors Amrish Puri and Amol Palekar debuted in it, while Govind Nihalani (who went on to direct gems like Ardh Satya, Aakrosh, Drohkaal and Tamas) stepped behind the camera for the first time as a full-fledged director of photography. Also, this was Tendulkar’s first screenplay, which led him to write many more like Nishant, Aakrosh, Ardh Satya and Umbrata.
So, it could not have been easy for Ritesh Menon to direct yet another edition of Khamosh, Adalat Jaari Hai -- which this writer saw at the recent National Film Development Corporation of India’s Film Bazaar at Goa’s Panaji. Happily, Menon did justice to the movie, but let us not forget that he had an excellent cast -- Nandita Das, Saurabh Shukla and Yusuf Hussain.
Based on the play which Tendulkar wrote after overhearing a conversation on a Bombay local train among the members of an amateur drama troupe on their way to stage a mock trial, Menon’s film follows the original, narrating the pathetic plight of Miss Benare (a riveting piece of acting by Das) whose private life is exposed with mean viciousness by a judge (Hussain), a lawyer (what a splendid performance by Shukla) and few others present in the courtroom -- where some actors, all friends, are staging a theatrical rehearsal.
What begins as fun soon degenerates into a horrible attack on Miss Benare --- whose affair with a married professor, Damle (not present there), is ridiculed, and her out-of-wedlock pregnancy condemned. Soon, a mirthful and witty Miss Benare is reduced to tears, and it becomes apparent that the male-dominated society has this great penchant for hitting women who may be weak and helpless. Or, who may not follow community’s conventions.
One must watch the way the lawyer pushes his arguments towards cornering Miss Benare -- who is all confused and hurt by her own friends turning so brazenly against her, accusing her of being a home wrecker. Remember, this was going to be only a mock play -- which, though, shockingly translates into a game of personal vendetta -- a kind of drama where the lines of the real and the unreal converge. The transformation of a bubbly Miss Benare into a nervous and humiliated wreck is horribly sad.
In a chat with this writer over the telephone from Mumbai this morning, Menon (who had earlier made a film called Crazy Cukkad Family about greedy siblings fighting over their father’s wealth as he is about to die) said that he was unhappy that the evils which Tendulkar wrote about three decades ago were still troubling our society. Tendulkar himself was sad that years after he had penned Shantata... the atrocities elaborated in it still took place in the country.
“There is a kind of mob mentality which we see, where nobody knows why someone is shouting against someone else. And yet, everybody gets into the slanging match. We saw this in my film. Nobody in that motley group present in the court had any reason to accuse Miss Benare. Yet they all do it with a kind of frightening conviction,” Menon added.
Khamosh, Adalat Jaari Hai will open in the cinemas soon, though, as Menon said, the date was yet to be firmed up.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran covered the recent NFDC Fill Bazaar.)