32 Satish Alekar: Begum Barve

Ms. Safia Begum

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About the Playwright; Satish Alekar:


Satish Vasant Alekar was born on 30th January, 1949 in Delhi but he grew up in the state of Maharashtra. He studied in a Marathi medium school called the New English School at Ramanbag which was started by Lokmanya Tilak. He has completed his B. Sc. from Fergusson College and later post-graduation in biochemistry from the University of Pune.


Works of Satish Alekar:


Satish Alekar is one of the renowned Marathi playwrights and theatre directors. He is one of the founding members of the Theatre Academy, Pune. For the first time, he performed in a college play. Impressed by his performance Bhalbha Kelker, one theatre personality invited him to join the Progressive Dramatic Association. He joined the group and continued theatre. Jhulta Phool was Alekar’s first one act play which he wrote and directed. Later he started writing plays.


Alekar is the author of many prominent plays written in Marathi. His notable plays are Memory (1969), Bhajan (1969), Ek Julta Pool (1971), Micky and the Memsahib (1973), Mahanirvan (The Dread Departure, 1974),Mahapur (Deluge, 1975), Dar Koni Ughadat Naahi (1979), Begum Berve (1979), Bus Stop (1980), Shaniwar-Raviwar (1982), Dusara Samna (1985), Atirekee (The Terrorist, 1989), Pidhijat (Dynasty, 2003), Ek Divas Mathakade (2012). Some of these are one-act plays and many are full length theatre plays which were critically acclaimed by many.


Satish Alekar’s plays are staged by many theatre groups all over Maharashtra. Apart from these theatre plays he also wrote many short plays. He has also written some scripts for Marathi films like Jait re Jait (1977). He has also directed a Hindi television serial named Dekho Magar Pyaar Se for Doordarshan in 1985. He wrote dialogues for Katha Don Ganpatraonchi for NFDC during 1995-96. Alekar was also a part of many international translation projects and translated and directed short plays of authors like German playwright Gunter Grass’s The Flood in 1980, Tankred Dorst’s plays and two short plays by Egyptian playwright Dr. Alfred Farag.


Alekar is the recipient of several state and national awards for his contribution to the field of theatre and literature. He has received fellowships from the Council of Asian Culture, New York in 1983 to study theatre in the United States and from the Ford Foundation to study Theatre of South Asia in 1988. He received Nandikar SanmanAward at Kolkata in 1992. He was honored with Sangeet Natak Akademiaward in 1994 by Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi. He has honored with Padamshree in 2012.


Literary Style of Satish Alekar:


Satish Alekar is known for experimenting in theatre, usage of absurd situations in his plays and for the uses of folk forms and songs. He is considered as a modern Marathi playwright who has also tried to depict man’s alienation from society, religion, God and even from own self. Many of his plays show the tensions that exist in modern society which are due to conflict with traditional and cultural values. Generally his plays ridicule the middle class values and emphasize on the absurdity of human existence.


Background of the Play:


Begum Barve is a popular play of Marathi theatre. It was written in 1979 for the Pune Theatre Academy which was also directed by Satish Alekar himself. It is a modern experimental play but based on the traditional Marathi Sangeetnatak (Marathi Musical Play). The play has eleven famous Marathi dramatic songs borrowed from Marathi Musical plays. However, it does not have five acts as found in the old Musical plays. It is a two act play and does not have scenes like other western and Indian plays. By category it is an Absurd theatre play. The play was translated into English by Shanta Gokhale with the same title which was published by Seagull Books, Kolkata in 1993.


Setting of the Play:


The play is set in any particular place without usual reference and location. It is set in the common places like the road, roadside tea canteens, staircase of apartment and rooms where the characters live. Thus, setting of the play is quite unusual unlike other plays wherein many times playwrights refer to particular city or village and so on. Here, the setting of the play suggests its universal characters where anyone can relate to the set and incidents happening in the play.


Plot and Summary of the Play:


The play opens with Sutradhara waiting for his beloved and Bawdekar waiting for his friend, Jawdekar. The two men Bawadekar and Jawadekar are friends and stay in the same room. They work in the same government office as clerks and belong to the middle class families. They dream to get married someday. Mrs. Nalawade is the widowed lady clerk who works in their office. They fantasize about her as she actually comes in their apartment. Shayamrao is a cruel and angered gambler. Shayamrao was once a horse cart driver but now paralyzed. He lives with Barve and survives on Barve’s money that he gets by selling incenses. Barve assumes that Shayamrao is the patron of his life and lives with him under a staircase of the apartment where the two friends, Bawadekar and Jawadekar, live.


Barve is an impersonator of the Sangeetnatak. He lives in fantasy of his own as Saranganayanawho is a character of Sangeet Saubhadra. He was once a minor actor. However, he still continues to live in that place after his professional days are over. He moves from one space and self to another that is Barve to Begum, with great ease talking to himself and others simultaneously. It is a psychic thread which connects Barve with the female. Thus, the play focuses on Barve, the small time female impersonator and stage performer.


One night Jawadekar and Bawdekar see Barve in his feminine guise and get enamoured of her. They willingly, suspending disbelief, become participants in Barve’s self-created feminine illusory world. They accept Barve as their office colleague Nalawadebai, Jawadekar’s love interest. Bawdekar enters into the make belief world and gets them married. Jawadekar and Barve now live as husband and wife and soon the wife announces that she is pregnant.


Shayamrao gets furious on the prospect of losing his Begum and conspires to reclaim her. He initially announces the chances of one of the two clerks getting dismissed and thus creates a tension between the two friends and in their lives. To disturb the matter further he tells Bawdekar that Barve is not carrying Jawdekar’s child. Further the charming ritual of the expectant mother being decked with flower turns into a horror story of denouement. Bawdekar threatens to kill the unborn and Shayamrao proclaiming Barve’s masculinity the untruth of pregnancy. The dream world is rudely shattered as reality intrudes. While the clerks resume their routine tasks, Barve returns to the black hole under the stair.


Major Characters in the Play:


Begum Barve: Begum Barve is a small time Maraathi theatre actor and female impersonator.


Shayamrao: Shayamrao is a patron of Begum Barve who plays a rude character in the play.


Jawadekar and Bawdekar: Jawadekar and Bawdekar are friends and they work as a clerk in the same office. They also stay in the same place and dreams of marriage.


Mrs. Nalawade: Mrs. Nalawade is a widow and colleague of Jawadekar and Bawdekar.


Themes and Other Relevant Issues Discussed in the Play:


The play deals with various themes like female impersonation, absurdity of life, poverty, middle class moralities. It also deals with the dream world and the reality. Further, there are several other issues which we will discuss in detail.


Theatre of Absurd:


The play has many elements like the absurd theatre. Theatre of absurd also referred as absurdism. Absurd basically in musical context means out of harmony. However, it’s meaning in the context of day to day life means ridiculous. In theatre it means without any purpose, illogical, out of harmony, useless, devoid of reason, meaningless, hopeless, chaotic, lacking order and uncertain. Absurdist theatre was influenced by existentialist philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Albert Camus (1913-1960) and many others. Generally, absurdist playwrights go against the traditional and logical norms of the theatre. There are various dramatic actions also take place. However, the characters perform but their busyness serves to explain that nothing happens to change their existence. Some of the important absurdist plays are Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Rhinoceros and The Bald Prima Donna/The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco, The Balcony by Jean Genet and so on.


Absurdism in Begum Barve:


The play presents two different worlds that converge: one is about the life of Begum Barve’s world and the other world is about the dreams and aspiration and of the two friends, Jawdekar and Bawdekar. The play uses the techniques of absurd theatre in which the actors live their repetitive and boring life. Similarly, the play also presents the meaningless and painful situation of the four characters, that is, Jawadekar, Bawdekar, Shayam and Barve. Both the men go to office by the same road and have tea in the same canteen. Every Thursday they pray to Lord Dattatraya. They always fantasize about marriage. They always speak about sexual activities. In this manner all their activities are routine and meaningless which do not have much importance in their lives.


On the other side, Barve is in search of identity and considers himself as the best female Marathi actor of Sangeetnatak. He belongs to the bygone theatre extravaganza and worships Balgangadhar, renowned female impersonator of Marathi theatre. Barve always sings the songs of Marathi musical plays and live in an imaginary world of his own. He finds solace when he gets married and lives as a wife of Jawdekar. Jawdekar who was also planning to marry someday feels happy in this make believe world. Everything seems to be moving normally and Barve also announces the news of the pregnancy.


Thus, all these character live in their imagined world and meaningless life that does not have any purpose. However, suddenly, on the day of Barve’s seventh month dinner Shayamrao comes and breaks the world of illusion. He says “You are pregnant? You? Yoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! Did you hear that? Nalawadebai is pregnant. Yoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! Look at his dhoti. Nalawadebai’s ‘dhoti’. Look at this dhoti-wearing woman. Look at this woman, pregnant without a womb (Shayamrao pulls off Barve’s dhoti, revealing his knee-length striped drawers.)…


Now Shayamrao orders Barve to come back to the below stairs. Jawdekar and Bawdekar once again begin their meaningless life without acknowledging the incident as if nothing has happened. Moreover, the plot, structure and characterization are also similar to that of other playwrights of absurd theatre like Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Edward Albee. Both of them, that is Barve and Jawdekar continues to fantasize about their colleague as she moves in the same apartment.


Jawadekar: Gurudev Datta. Stranger and stranger. Is that you, Nalawadebai, so late at night?


Bawdekar: What did I say?………


Barve: Won’t you put this water pot away? My arm has grown so stiff.


Jawdekar: (recovering from shock), why not- of- course let me take it. (Putting the pot away). Nalawadebai, how could you have brought the pot so late at night? Weren’t you afraid? 


The play also tells us of the similar situation that happens in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962) like Barve, George and Martha also find the life as meaningless, bored and miserable. They live in an illusionary world believing that they have a son.


In Begum Barve the events are serialised in succession without taking time into consideration. For instance from the time of initial meeting to marriage and seven months dinner takes almost a year. All these events are compressed perhaps in a two days’ time. Thus, in other words events or actions of the characters become absurd. It might also be to present the meaninglessness of time and actions the dramatist has distorted it.


Another interesting aspect of the play is the introduction of characters like Shayamrao as the Sutradhar who waits for his beloved in the beginning of the play. Sutradhar in Indian Sanskrit dramas is “The literal meaning of sutradhara is ‘thread-holder’. This is a central character in Sanskrit theatre. He is analogous to modern director, stage manager, and producer. Although the etymology suggests that he held the metaphorical thread. This runs through and holds together the various incidents in a play.” Alekar has introduced Shayamrao first as Sutradhar who in fact holds the thread of the play.


He sends Barve to sell incenses to Bawdekar and Jawdekar. He comes as boss’s man to congratulate Bawdekar on his marriage with Barve. He informs them that the boss is going to sack one of them. He comes on the baby shower of Barve and tells that Barve is not pregnant with Jawdekar’s child. He finally reveals the real identity of Barve. Thus Shayamrao as a sutradhar holds the string of the whole drama. He almost knows everything like who should meet whom and at what point of time and so on.


The playwright has introduced Bawdekar and Jawdekar as men whereas Barve is first introduced as ‘person’, a person who is a human being without a name and identity. Thus the playwright has introduced the characters based on the role they are playing in the drama but not by their names with which they are later identified with. So, names do not tell about your true self or character. This once again indicates towards the absurdity and comment on the meaninglessness of names and life.


The Illusory Worlds of Begum Barve:


Jawdekar and Bawdekar unendingly wait for their marriage to take place whereas Barve dreams of living a woman’s life. Shayamrao lives in his own illusion and considers himself as Boss’s man. Thus, the four characters live in their own illusionary world. Barve lives as Begum for Shayamrao and switches the spaces conveniently. Further, Bawdekar and Jawdekar fantasize her as Mrs. Nalawadebai. They believe that she comes to their apartment especially during summer season holding a pot of water singing romantic songs.


Jawdekar in a romantic mode announces his love for her in front of Bawdekar. She accepts the advances and they get married. However, Barve has to return to Shayamrao who waits for him under the staircase room. Thus, Barve takes two spaces simultaneously like He is Barve, the man, and Begum for Shayamrao. In the fantasy he believes he is Saranganayana, a minor character of Sangeet Saubhadra. The two men fantasize her as their colleague, Mrs. Nalawadebai.


Summary :


So, in this module we have discussed about Satish Alekar, the playwright. We came to know about his personal life and also theatre career. We also learnt about Satish’s literary works and his style of writing. Further, we have discussed the play Begum Barve. We came to know about the background and setting of the play. We have discussed the plot and summary of the play. Then we have also discussed the characters in it. After then we have focused on various themes and other relevant issues discussed in the play. Hope these are useful to you. For more on this module, please find the e-text, learn more and self-assessment tabs. Thank you.

you can view video on Satish Alekar: Begum Barve


  • Bandyopadhyay, Samik.(ed.) Collected Plays of Satish Alekar: The Dread Departure, Deluge, the Terrorist, Dynasts, Begum Barve, Mickey and the Memsahib. India: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Batra, Kanika. Feminist Visions and Queer Futures in Postcolonial Drama: Community,
  • Kinship and Citizenship. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Chandrasekhar, Indira and Peter C. Seel. Ed. Body city: siting contemporary culture in India. New Delhi: Tulika Books,2003.
  • Merchan,  Hoshang.  Forbidden  Sex,  Forbidden  Texts: New  India’s  Gay  Poets.  India: Routledge, 2008.
  • Satish Alekar. http://satishalekar.com/