Dolly Thakore's 'Life in the Theatre'

'PANDIT SATYADEV DUBEY' was quite a mouthful for many who have known him for over forty years…and now he is "Padma Bhushan Pandit Satyadev Dubey". And no one deserves this recognition more than this architect of modern Indian theatre.

The Padma Bhushan is a tribute to Dubey's more than fifty long obsessive years in a performing art. It is also a recognition of the higher values that inspire theatre persons to continue experimentation despite failure and fatigue. It is almost a personal triumph since it is an Award for theatre.

I have seen almost every play he has written and directed. Today he can boast of good houses. But there was a time when you could count his audience on the fingers of your hands.

When Prithvi Theatre started in 1978, Jennifer Kapoor encouraged theatre groups to perform by charging one rupee a seat sold as rental. And if I recall there have been times when gate-receipts only allowed Rs. 6 and Rs. 15 as rent for that jewel of a theatre. And it was Dubey himself who urged Jennifer to levy a flat-rate for hiring that theatre. Theatre should not suffer losses, he argued.

There was a time when Dubey conducted theatre training workshops at the Prithvi every Monday -- which was the off-day at Prithvi – free of cost. Young enthusiasts flocked to these.

He ran free workshops at the Karnataka Sangh for some 60-70 people regularly, and used the entire space there for his workshops. And there are numerous well-known actors and writers who dominate the Hindi and Marathi theatre space who have graduated from these Dubey Workshops.

From those beginnings, to being honoured with a Padmabhushan, has been a long and interesting journey.

Always referred to as the ‘enfant terrible’ of the theatre, Dubey has held very strong views and relationships.

It was a wonderful heart-warming confession of three generations of theatre practitioners sharing their experiences and experiments at the Padma Bhushan Satyadev Dubey Celebration – co- hosted by the MIG Club in Bandra East and by Friends of Dubey on April 10, 2011. Sunil Shanbag and Lata and Shishir Sharma personally contacted every invitee.

A Club renowned for its Businessmen and Sportsmen – Sachin Tendulkar was a regular here – this was the first time that the Club was honouring a man from the Theatre world!!

After a long time one saw Marathi, Hindi, English and Gujrati stage stalwarts on one terrace intermingling and exchanging experiences of the Dubey they had known.

Shanta Gokhale, writer, and columnist who “separates the best from the banal in Mumbai’s culturescape” -- and whose book on Dubey is to be published soon, regaled us with stories of how Dubey traced her in Vishakhapatnam with a persistent demand to translate C. T. Khanolkar’s AVADHYA from Marathi to English for ENACT…and thus began Shanta’s translating career.

An idiosyncrasy often recalled by many of his best and favourite actors was how from living with him almost everyday for months and years, he would suddenly cut himself off, and refuse to acknowledge their existence without any explanation.

In Shanta’s case, she feels it was because her daughter Renuka Shahane -- who had been rehearsing with Dubey for almost six months -- decided to take up a film as the play was going nowhere. So he severed ties with the whole family for years.

And just as suddenly, years later, at a Vijay Tendulkar retrospective organized by Amol Palekar in Pune, Shanta hugged him and all was forgiven!

Some of you may remember Sonali Kulkarni from films like 'Dil Chahta Hai' and 'Mission Kashmir', but her association with Dubey began in 1990, when Pune’s theatre legend Rajabhai Nathu decided to expose some 100 young participants to Satyadev Dubey, and organized a workshop called Kanagi Ek Siddhant.

Sonali recalls how Dubey changed the interpretation of poetry for them all. He took up Kusumagraj’s ‘Garje Jai Jai Kar’ and interpreted it in a contemporary way much to the shocked amazement but delight of all. And later he cast her in his play AN ACTOR DIES, BUT....

She recalled how he opened up their voices and freed every muscle of their body from preconceived inhibitions.

“Dubeyji has taught me that the scale for beauty is not merely how 'fair' your complexion was, or the 'tone' of your voice... they were elements that you were born with and something you have to live with for life... the only thing as an actor one could do, was to improve ones acting skills.”

Another well-known actor of Marathi and Hindi stage and screen, Amol Palekar regaled us with his reminiscences of the early 60, 70s and early 80s. ….about how Chitra who he was courting at the time was working with Dubey. Suddenly one evening he cast Amol in his play saying “not because you are a good actor or are good looking. But it would be convenient because you hang around Chitra all the time.”

Dubey’s tumultuous relationships with the people he is close to is proverbial. Playwright Achyut Waze who owes a great deal to Dubey recalled the huge fight he had with Dubey’s interpretation of his play SOFA-CUM-BED. So much so that Waze ran a parallel production and directed it himself.

Newly arrived from the Pune Film & Television Institute of India – after graduating from the National School of Drama – Naseeruddin Shah’s first production with Dubey was in 'Sambhog se Sanywas Tak' – where he met Ratna Pathak and married her.

A whole new generation of actors has emerged from his production of 'Sambhog se Sanyas Tak' which he ran for years.

Akash Khurana shared a very touching anecdote of how he would be indebted to Dubey for life. He had lost his home, and had nowhere to go. It was Dubey who took him and his family in, and kept them in his flat for almost eight months.

Dubey’s passion for theatre wanted to merge the dividing lines between the Hindi and Marathi theatre. Thus was born 'AVISHKAR'. He wanted to shake the Marathiness out of the Marathi theatre. Girsh Patki and Hemant Hazare talked about how Avishkar flowered and flourished.

Sorely missed on this occasion was Chetan Datar who even from his deathbed asked for Dubey’s ashirwad!

He has led generations of newcomers to the stage.

Others sorely missed were Amrish Puri who was later seduced away from the theatre by the film Industry; and his leading ladies Sulabha Deshpande, Deepa Lagu, Suneela Pradhan, Nina Kulkarni who could not attend.

Three generations of theatre impassionatas relived their days with Padma Bhushan Satyadev Dubey…all from the stable of National School of Dubey!!