Enchanting Enigma of a Playwright

Shafaat Khan is among those rare species of Marathi playwrights, experimental and intelligent, and stands tall among them.
Born in village Banda on Maharashtra and Goa border, he has all the built-in characteristics of the village. You may not know that Banda is a small village of Sawantwadi taluka but the connoisseur buyers of Goa flock to Banda for everything from fine quality building material to daily used cereals. Banda however refuses to make a show. A rare kind of behaviour in the days of grab-all and show-off mentality.
Shafaat Khan exhibits ditto the same behavioural pattern, as per some anecdotes I have heard from him from senior members of my literary and writing circle.
Aalas. Baran Zaalan,” would be his usually welcome “(You have arrived?) Good…” is his patent welcome phrase with an apparently puzzled look on his face.
But be aware. You can be camouflaged. He may ask you any question connected with current topics. It’s not for you. In fact, it is for himself.
So it is not a puzzled look; it’s a perplexed look woven around his face like that in one of his plays, ‘Bhoomiticha Farce.’
I am mystified, till date, whether it’s geometry or land measurement in his mind. If you enjoy the play in a linear way, no trouble. However, enter a virus into your brain and you’re a victim of troubled thinking. No escape! Next moment of the meeting he would pose you a question a la enigma. You already start cascading in a valley of obscurity.
Product of the late seventies unique, ‘𝐂𝐡𝐡𝐚𝐛𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐚𝐬 𝐄𝐱𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐥 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐫𝐞 𝐌𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭’ of Marathi theatre under the greats of 𝐒𝐮𝐥𝐚𝐛𝐡𝐚 𝐃𝐞𝐬𝐡𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞, (till date the best stage actress on any language stage in my opinion), and 𝐀𝐫𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐝 𝐃𝐞𝐬𝐡𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞; 𝐒𝐡𝐚𝐟𝐚𝐚𝐭 𝐊𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐚𝐬 𝐒𝐡𝐚𝐟𝐢 wrote a small play, ‘𝑴𝒖𝒎𝒃𝒂𝒊𝒄𝒉𝒆 𝑲𝒂𝒘𝒍𝒆’ (𝑪𝒓𝒐𝒘𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝑴𝒖𝒎𝒃𝒂𝒊) to start with, later translated in Hindi.
“𝑪𝒉𝒊𝒎𝒂𝒏𝒚𝒂𝒏𝒗𝒂𝒓 𝒌𝒂𝒘𝒍𝒆 𝒃𝒂𝒔𝒍𝒆 𝒉𝒐𝒕𝒆” (𝑪𝒓𝒐𝒘𝒔 𝒔𝒂𝒕 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒉𝒊𝒎𝒏𝒆𝒚𝒔) was one of the dialogues in the play. What kind of meaning would you be able to draw from this kind of dialogue? Such kind of thought and writing is indeed very perplexing. As my elders tell me, the play was staged at 𝐂𝐡𝐡𝐚𝐛𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐚𝐬 in 1983.
Here chimni meant chimney or a smokestack of a cotton mill. Simultaneously it connotes the crows copulating with the sparrows. What’s true here? The sexual perversions of the crows i.e. evil eyes? Or environmental imbalance? Or impending closure of Mumbai mills?
You’re flummoxed once again.
𝑴𝒂𝒏𝒐𝒐𝒔, the then thought provoking weekly of highest cultural standard appealed to ‘𝑾𝒆𝒍𝒄𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝑴𝒖𝒎𝒃𝒂𝒊𝒄𝒉𝒆 𝑲𝒂𝒘𝒍𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝑷𝒖𝒏𝒆’, defying the conventional blind faith deep rooted in the Marathi minds.
This young playwright grew slowly and steadily over quite a decades without making much noise but making all the flutter among the clerisy of Maharashtra after 𝐕𝐢𝐣𝐚𝐲 𝐓𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐮𝐥𝐤𝐚𝐫 and 𝐒𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐬𝐡 𝐀𝐚𝐥𝐞𝐤𝐚𝐫.
‘𝑲𝒂- 𝑲𝒂𝒏𝒕𝒂𝒍𝒂’, ‘𝑲𝒊𝒔𝒔𝒆’, ‘𝑺𝒉𝒐𝒃𝒉𝒂𝒚𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒂’ (a political burlesque, later made into a Hindi movie directed by 𝐒𝐡𝐢𝐯𝐝𝐚𝐬 𝐆𝐡𝐨𝐝𝐤𝐞 and music composed by the percussionist 𝐓𝐚𝐮𝐟𝐢𝐤 𝐊𝐮𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐡𝐢), ‘𝑹𝒂𝒉𝒊𝒍𝒆 𝑫𝒖𝒓 𝑮𝒉𝒂𝒓 𝑴𝒂𝒋𝒉𝒆’ and then later on ‘𝑷𝒐𝒑𝒂𝒕 𝑷𝒂𝒏𝒄𝒉𝒊’ are a few examples of the upward graph of the playwright taciturn.
He loves to make parody of incidents happening around from political, social, and religious milieu. He doesn’t take a pose for that. It’s not in his blood. The moment you pose you’re a propagator, he isn’t that of a kind. Black humour is his forte, black humour in superlative form, flying over one’s head however intelligent he might be.
Effect?
Already forlorn and devoid of in-depth knowledge, critics use to be in a state of conundrum. They just turn their heads and brains towards escapist melodramatic perversions labeled as comedies.
Otherwise reticent Shafi spoke to a few with open mind about ‘𝑺𝒉𝒐𝒃𝒉𝒂𝒚𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒂’, may be due to its making into cinema.
He visited a ground where a pageant was being rehearsed for the Independence Day procession. He felt Pandit Nehru came up to ask to ignite his cigarette. He found Tilak, Jhansi ki Rani and Subhash Bose partying holding glasses in hands. That’s how the idea brewed.
‘𝑺𝒉𝒐𝒃𝒉𝒂𝒚𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒂’, the movie bombed commercially as it was to be, due to dearth of brilliant audience. However, the same play received applauds when translated and staged in English and in Hindi.
Innumerable current topics keep on haunting him continuously. Mixed with his obliqueness of thoughts and black humour what churns out is his play.
‘𝑷𝒐𝒑𝒂𝒕 𝑷𝒂𝒏𝒄𝒉𝒊’ was an exquisite tale of sensuous stories narrated by a parrot employed by a gangster on the run to skip police to confine his wife, an erstwhile bar girl, in his house is the crux of the play. Parrot is gangster’s friend namely 𝑷𝒐𝒑𝒂𝒕 as his wife is 𝑴𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒂. The obstinate 𝑴𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒂 takes every benefit of her bar girl appeal and the impotent gangster becomes proud father of 𝑷𝒐𝒑𝒂𝒕’s son sans suspicion.
𝑷𝒐𝒑𝒂𝒕, a fake preacher tormented between the fear of his gangster friend and erotic advances of 𝑴𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒂 prospers under the auspices of his protector after telling the stories of a police commissioner turning transvestite, the inquiry and suspension of a security official due to a bitch getting pregnant.
A sycophant changing allegiance finally settling as a bhangarwala and amassing wealth to the extent of booking a flat on the 17th floor of a tower!
What real incident may hit your nose you won’t be able to imagine!
Shafi almost dumbfounds you to get a vertigo. You are caught in the web and hence safe from a philosophical fall. No escape. His plays are not for narrations, nor for entertainment. Further they are not even for getting thought provoked.
It’s a strange amalgam. Probably you may understand them after a decade as I’ve started comprehending them. However, the happenings and their reflections as Shafi writes and exhibits will linger into your minds for decades; till you understand and absolve yourself.
Should get a chance to watch in order to keep yourself alive, culturally, for a few years more.

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