24 Vijay Tendulkar’s Shantata, Court Chalu Aahe

Abu Saleh

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About the Dramatist: Vijay Tendulkar


Vijay Dhondopant Tendulkar was born on 6th January, 1928 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra which was then colonial India. He died on 19th May 2008 in Pune, Maharashtra, India. He was one of the renowned Marathi playwrights of the country. Most of his plays are based on real incidents which throw light upon various aspects of the society. His plays are translated and performed into many Indian and non-Indian languages. Personally, he has also translated many literary works from Marathi to other Indian languages. Thus, one cannot confine him to Marathi language and literature alone.


Tendulakr’s father Dhondopant worked as a clerk at a British publishing house and later started a small publishing house of his own too. Their house used to be full of books and many writers frequently used to visit them. On Sundays his father used to take him to his friend’s book shops and his father always encouraged him to read more. Thus, he was completely in a literary atmosphere. The foundation of his early education was laid at the municipal schools where he began to write at the age of six. However, due to his father’s illness and elder brother’s absence from home he had to take up the family’s responsibilities at an early age. For this he began to work in various publishing houses as a proof reader.


Nevertheless, Tendulkar’s interest in literature developed because of his teachers like P. G. Sahastrabuddhe, N. M. Sant and V. V. Bokil. Bokil was a known Marathi writer who helped Tendulkar to refine his writings. He began his career of journalism in 1948 onwards and worked for many newspapers like Navabharat, Maratha, and Loksatta. He also wrote for Marathi Times and Manus. While working for Maratha a Marathi language newspaper, Tendulkar came in contact with Pralhad Keshav Atre also known as Acharya Atre. Atre was a multifaceted personality who had left great impact on Tendulkar. In this way both his career as a journalist and the atmosphere at home contributed a great deal in understanding human society and helped him develop passion for writing.


Works of Vijay Tendulkar:


Tendulkar has written many poignant social oriented scripts, television series, and essays. However, he is widely known and revered as a Marathi playwright who has changed the course of Indian theatre. He was a prolific writer who has penned down thirty-one full length plays and twenty-three one act plays, children’s dramas, four short stories, two novels and so on. In his oeuvre one finds thematical a shift. In his initial period he has explored the themes based on middle class society and relevant issues concerning them like low income, unemployment, rent, marriage, marital issues, suppression and ill treatment of women son on and so forth. Dramas written during the latter part of his life explore the socio-political and historical dimensions. The following are some of his most notable plays Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, Ghashiram’ Kotwal, Sakharam Binder, Kamala, Gidhade and so on.


For his magnificent works and contribution to the Indian literary world he has received various literary and prestigious honours like Maharashtra State Government Award which he received twice, Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and fellowship, Academy’s highest award for lifetime-contribution and so on. For his literary contributions, he was given the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. There are various other awards and recognitions to his credit.


Literary Style:


Tendulkar’s plays are well crafted and his stage directions assure good production. His writing style at surface level seems to be very simple but contains deep meaning. He makes use of songs and employs distinct styles and languages to portray complexity of human characters. He does not present his characters in black and white shades rather he sees them in grey, a combination of black and white or good and bad, a realistic approach to understand human psyche. In other words, he tries to say that no one character is completely good or bad. They are the combination of both the sides, a reality of all human characters. Thus his characters are the product of both good and evil. He majorly brings out the issues of middle class society that are contemporary like issues of patriarchy, gender, politics and violence. Another significant point to note is that he never provides a solution or happy ending in his plays rather raises questions that provoke readers or audiences to think about these issues.


Background of the Play:


The play we will be discussing, Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe was written for a theatre group called Rangayan and was first performed in 1968. It is to be said that the play is based on the Die Panne (1956) or The Dangerous Game a novella by Friedrich Durrenmatt, a Swiss dramatist. It is also said that the playwright overheard a conversation during one of his train journeys and then wrote the play. Various characters and names are inspired from many contemporary works of that time. In Marathi, for the first time it was directed by Arvind Deshpande and the noted actor Sulbha Deshpande acted in the lead role.


Later, the play was translated and performed into various Indian and foreign languages. In 1971, the play was presented in English by the Madras Players at the Museum Theatre, Madras which was directed by Ammu Mathew. It has been translated into English by Priya Adarkar as Silence! The Court is in Session which has been published by the Oxford University Press in 1978. The play was also adapted in Marathi and Hindi cinema by acclaimed directors like Satyadev Dubey who made a film on it in 1971. Many noted actors like Amol Palekar and Amresh Puri acted in the film. The play has also been broadcasted by the BBC in English.


Stage Direction/Instruction:


The play takes place in an evening and it is set in an old community hall of a village. The hall is used by the villagers to conduct their social and cultural activities. Setting of the stage is important to understand the mood and atmosphere of the play especially for the readers. It is a significant part of a play. The following are the notes by the playwright that describes the stage setting. The play takes place in a completely empty hall that has two doors one to enter and the other to go into another adjoining room. The hall has built in platform; one or two wooden chairs, an old box, a stool and various miscellaneous things lie together in disarray like in a lumber room. An out of order clock hangs on the wall, some worn out portraits of national leaders. There is also a wooden board with the names of donors. A picture of Lord Ganesha is hanging on the door and the door is closed. This is the general setting of the play. Further, there are other aspects also when you read the play pay attention to the setting as well.


Plot of the Play:


There is a play within a play. All the characters of the play come to a small village to perform a play. In the absence of a character it is decided that Samant, one of the villagers will play that role. The problem arises as Samant is unaware of the court procedures. Thus, in order to show the court procedure to Mr. Samant the other characters perform a mock trial of the play.


Brief Summary of the Play:


As said earlier there is a play within a play, a mock trial in this case, wherein the following things happen. The play is meaningfully devised against Leela Benare, the protagonist of the play. In this mock trial Ms. Benare is accused of infanticide. Where all the characters stand against her and she stands alone on the other side. The play gradually reveals the reality and it turns out that Ms. Benare is in fact pregnant but she is unmarried. She is a victim of patriarchal society which looks at women as an object of lust. At the age of fifteen her uncle sexually exploited her and later she was harassed by Prof. Damle. As a result of this she no more believes in men and resolves to give birth to her child. The child is illegal in the eyes of the society. Thus, all the characters of the play torture her for the illegal act and sentenced her to undertake an abortion.


Major Characters:


There are few major characters in the play. Let us discuss some of them in order of appearance.


Raghu Samant: Samant is a local person from the village. He is an important element of the play who keeps the play moving. It is for him the mock trial is staged as he is unaware of the court proceedings. Thus, to give him the feel of court proceedings the whole mock trial begins. He appears on the stage holding a lock and key, a toy parrot and a book. He seems to be sympathetic towards Ms. Benare and in a way acts as a ray of hope for her in this cruel society.


Ms. Leela Benare: Leela Benare is the protagonist of the play. She is a teacher by profession and keeps her professional and personal life separate. She is full of life and courageous too. She is an independent and progressive woman who does not care about social norms and customs. In the play, she shows her moral courage by publicly accepting her ‘mistakes’. She arrives on the stage holding a basket of equipments and a purse.


Now rest of the characters like Sukhatme, Ponkshe and Balu Rokde arrives together. Later comes Mr. and Mrs. Kashikar on the scene together.


Mrs. Kashikar: Another major character is Mrs. Kashikar. She is completely different from Ms. Benare. She is introduced by Ms. Benare as ‘Mrs hand that rocks the cradle’. She does not have children. She is a traditional woman who is married and wants to have children. She is completely controlled by her husband, Mr. Kashikar. Sometimes she worries about society also. She enters the stage ‘unconsciously stroking the garland in her hair.’


Mr. Kashikar: Mr. Kashikar is the husband of Mrs. Kashikar. He is a self-proclaimed social reformer. In the mock trial he plays the role of the judge. In many occasions he shows his prejudices over women issues. He is introduced in the play as ‘Mr Prime Objective’ by Ms. Benare. He sees himself as intelligent and superior.


Other Minor Characters:


Prof. Damle: He is a married man and has children. He is the father of Ms. Benare’s child but he backs away from his responsibilities. He never arrives on the stage. He is introduced in the play when Rokde suddenly remembers that he has not arrived and says to Mrs. Kashikar.

Benare on hearing Prof. Damle’s name, ‘suddenly falls silent and motionless’.


Sukhatme, Balu, Karnik and Ponkshe: These four characters act as a symbol of orthodox society. Sukhatme is a showy expert in the matters of law. Pankshe is an intermediate failed science student who thinks himself as a scientist. Karnik is an experimental theatre artist. They arrive along with the Mock Law Court’s general factotum, two or three suitcases, two bags, a battery-operated microphone set etc.


Servant: Servant enters the hall carrying two wooden enclosures – the dock and the witness box. Ponkshe pays him and he leaves the stage.


Major Themes of the Play:


The play deals with two major important themes that is middle class hypocrisy and man vs woman. These are universal issues and themes that time but again it becomes important to relook and reflect upon them. The play focuses on the Indian society at that point of time and the attitude towards women issues. However, when you read the play you will find many other themes and examples that are not cited in this module. Now, we will discuss these two matters as they have presented in the play.


Middle Class Hypocrisy:


With this play the playwright brings to light the deep-seated feigned moral values and hypocrisy of middle class society more specifically man’s attitude towards women. It is through the ordeal of an Independent single woman’s life who wants to give birth to a child who, in the eyes of the society, is the result of an illegal relationship. Tendulkar demonstrates the hypocrisy of middle class values. He does this through the mock trial. According to him every middle class man is basically devoid of human understanding and significance of life. They are in a way hollow and have nothing but the bogus moral values.


Once the mock trial begins Ms. Benare’s fellow actors who represent the macrocosm of the society reveals their actual face. They plot against Ms. Benare she has transgressed societal values. She has committed the crime of losing her virginity before her marriage and is also carrying a child in her womb of a man who is already married and has a family life. The trial begins with Mr. Kashikar’s sudden interrogative question “Prisoner Miss Benare, under Section No. 302 of the Indian Penal Code you are accused of the crime of infanticide. Are you guilty of the aforementioned crime?” On this question Ms. Benare is dumbfounded.


In the courtroom and also while discussing serious issues the casual attitude of pan-spitting, smoking and ear picking have been masterly shown. Here the dramatist points out towards the careless and ruthless attitude of the society. Moreover, whenever during the trial Ms. Benare’s expressions change her persecutors become curious to know about her personal life, a typical middle class attitude. All these upholders of the societal norms give long speeches on importance of motherhood and at the same time they do not hesitate to kill a child. It is only because it is the result of an illicit relationship. They also show concern towards future generation who is unconscious of their own faulty moral values.


In this act of cruelty, women also out of jealousy participate and indirectly help in sustaining patriarchal norms in the society. Mrs. Kashikar out of inferiority complex, insecurity and jealous of Ms. Benare’s independent lifestyle never leaves an opportunity to insult and taunt her.


Man vs. Woman:


This is a woman centric play that reflects upon how women are silenced in patriarchal society. The playwright through Ms. Benare expresses the atrocities carried out on women by the male chauvinist society. Ms. Benare, a woman who is struggling for survival is caught like an animal in a dock and silenced. She is trapped and hunted like an animal. The door being locked from outside and Mrs. Kashikar’s dragging her to the dock and the frequent usage of the word ‘game’ shows how women are victimized and isolated in the society.


Society does not allow women to freely think and become independent. The character says “my private life is my own business. I’ll decide what to do with myself?” Her ideas are very clear. She is not a hypocrite. “My life is my own. I have not sold it to anyone for a job. My will is my own. My wishes are my own. No one can kill those no one. I’ll do what I like with myself and my life. I’ll decide”. But she has to succumb to the societal rules and she is forced to remain silent. In this society a woman is forced to live a life dictated by others when Mr. Kashikar expresses that “Marriage is the very foundation of our society’s stability. Motherhood must be sacred and pure. This court takes a serious view of your attempt to dynamite all this.” Thus he declares that she should destroy her child.


Women are subjugated and controlled where and not permitted to take decisions of their own lives. In this manner their actual achievements and creativity remains unnoticed like Ms. Benare is treated by the school authorities. Society loves and respects women as mothers but somewhere they are relegated to lower status. In the garb of mother they are powerless as they become take career but not the decision makers. This is expressed in Sukhatme’s words “But when there’s woman in the dock, the case does have a different complexion.” and he also says “Woman is not fit for independence” Kashikar says “our society should revive the old custom of child marriage.”


Thus, the play brings out the universal problem into light and it ends with the monologue of Ms. Benare, who says “Their lips are full of lovely worn-out phrases! And their bellies are full of unsatisfied desires.” She further says “This body is a traitor! But this body is necessary to rear a child, to show it the light of earth. And here again the rules of male-dominated society impede the free woman’s right to raise her child on her own: ‘He (the child) must have … father to call his own”. This monologue raises many issues of the society and specifically in the play it point towards Prof. Damle and in general to men like him who run away from their responsibilities and look at women as an object of lust.


Other Relevant Issues Discussed in the Play:


The play majorly explores man and woman relationship in various forms such as husband and wife like Mr. and Mrs. Sukhatme, Mr. & Mrs. Kashikar; employers and employee like Nanasaheb, the chairman of the educational society where Ms. Benare teaches, and Ms. Benare. The play deals with human and anti-human behaviour of our society. It talks against the orthodox society which has established certain values and which is ready to sacrifice human life examples like Mrs. Kashikar who does not have children also joins hands with the society and wants to become the upholder of the tradition. She never bothers to understand the dilemmas and situation of Ms. Benare.


The play raises important questions against power and authority particularly of the men and shows how very insidiously embedded in the society. It tries to break the idea of patriarchy which oppresses other gender in various ways. This play has exposed the hypocrisy of social customs in the name of traditional practices. It also focuses on women and celebration of womanhood. There are also various issues some of them have been raised in the play. Some critics have also criticised the writer for presenting women in vulnerable situations and contexts. However, no one can negate that it does not happen in society.

Summary :


In this module we have discussed about Vijay Tendulkar, the prominent Marathi playwright. We came to know about his personal, journalistic and literary career. We also learnt about Tendulkar’s works and his style of writing. Further, we have discussed the play Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe. We came to know about the background of the play. We have discussed the plot and brief summary of the play. We have also analysed the major and minor characters of it. After this we have focused on major themes and other relevant issues discussed in the play. For more on this module, please find the e-text, learn more and self- assessment tabs.

you can view video on Vijay Tendulkar’s Shantata, Court Chalu Aahe


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