The year 2004 would always be remembered, among other things, as the year when an era of Indian Literature came to an end. It was the year noted English and Marathi poet Arun Kolatkar passed away.
When a certain journalist hears the news of Kolatkar’s death on the fateful day, she is overpowered by the memory of meeting the poet in person, years ago in a restaurant in Kolatkar’s favourite Kala Ghoda area in Mumbai. She gradually begins to recall how she first heard of the man, then read his poems, and the events that eventually led her to meet the reclusive poet himself. As the journalist relapses to her memory, poetry and music come forward to complete the ensemble, to recreate the personality already gone.
This is the premise on which the play, Dark Horse: Walking Down Arun Kolatkar’s Lane, to be performed at Chandrashekhar Auditorium, IUCCA, today at 6.30 pm, is built. Scripted, directed and music provided by Gowri Ramnarayan, the play is produced by JustUs Repertory, Chennai, and boasts of a well-known cast, including Dhritiman Chaterji as Kolatkar, who starred in Satyajit Ray’s cult film Pratidwandi.
But the play is neither the auto/biography of Kolatkar, nor the dramatisation of his poem. Both the things are there, but there’s more. It’s a memory play, of past and present, of poetry and music, of imagination and reality, and an attempt to understand the recluse icon of Marathi as well as English poetry, Arun Kolatkar. In short, it is an ensemble of poetry, music and conversation.
Satish Alekar, head of the Centre for Performing Arts, which presents the play along with the University of Pune and IUCAA, feels that "It is not an easy play to understand." To begin with, it is not a biography of Kolatkar. It is an imaginary play, where the narrator tries to recreate the personality of the poet from his poems.
A novel idea indeed. There’s no straightforward narrative here. The subject is seen from a distant reality, from a different point of view and at a different time. You may probably call it a memory play, a genre made popular by Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, the echoes of which can be heard in Vijay Tendulkar's Marathi play A Friend’s Story, which incidentally was translated by Gowri Ramnarayan, director of the present play.
Ramnarayan is not only a writer and translator, but also has been a vocal accompanist to Carnatic musician M S Subbulakshmi. Thus, music plays an important role in the play. But music is not an accessory here; it is the focal point that combines the different threads of conversation, memory and poetry. The play uses 10 poems by Kolatkar, but they are not recited or dramatised, but assimilated into the theme.
Kolatkar’s Jejuri not only made the ancient temple town a famous name, but also changed the face of Indian poetry, especially modern Marathi poetry for generations to come. His The Kala Ghoda Poems, on the other hand, deals with the ‘city without a soul,’ his beloved Mumbai.
It is the Kala Ghoda aspect of the play that is most exciting for R Raj Rao, noted poet and writer. "Since the interview between the journalist and the poet takes place in a café, which obviously is the Wayside Inn, the play is bound to be profound," says Rao. "The Wayside Inn, after all, in the Fort area of Mumbai, was the place where Kolatkar spent most of his working day, and here his creative powers were at their best."
Come, spend an evening in memory of Kolatkar...
The play was performed on Oct 13, 2006