Satyadev Dubey made me uncomfortable. On two occasions.
First: Prithvi Theatre. Lights out. Power outage. Everyone stood where they could find space – the foyer, near the entrance or in the lane outside. Many were familiar faces. The café was full with those who were not going to watch the play. It was always full. Writers, directors, actors, wannabes, has-beens. I stood near the tree at the curve of the entrance; a short stocky man in a kurta was ambling the distance of a few feet. Makarand Deshpande, whose play was being staged, introduced us. There was a short verbal exchange, but his eyes continued to speak, to probe. It was as though he was taking up the air around me, converting it into frost that would cage me in some unfathomable way.
I was already acquainted with his work (films and stage) and recall watching Sambhok Se Sanyas Tak (From Lust to Sublimation) at the Karnataka Sangh, not one of those charmed places where everything different is seen as ‘path-breaking’; the different was meant to be just that. No overdose of adjectives. Dubey was in some ways the Osho of the theatre world, and the serious aficiandos might take offence to it, which would be precious because he was offensive most of the time. His work was designed to hit where it hurt. His gaze unrelenting.
The second uncomfortable Dubey moment was again in the dark. The same stocky figure waiting at a park for a young girl, trailing her wherever she goes, a foreigner in a country that is supposed to be alien, but which is more like him than anything he has known. A playwright who has so dramatised his life that he is looking for a grand finale to it. Nothing else, or less, will do.
She is young, pert and full of ammo. On the face of it, a propah English girl, but slowly, with every professional failure, she unclothes herself before our eyes to reveal what she has always denied: Her alienness. She does not quite belong, so she is shunned. She is displaced and grudgingly has to admit that to be deflowered she needs not a gentle touch but to be roughed up. To unleash her anger, her potential. The music must rise from the waltz, the jive, the samba to a deafening crescendo of Antigone’s cry.
Dubey could not be for real. He acted the part he wrote in It Could Happen Only In London, taking you on a fantastical journey of a girl becoming a woman and a man turning into a boy. It is about age catching up with us or making us regress. About seduction. Violence. Ambition. Realisation. And at the end of it all the menace of futility being unable to prevent that glimmer of light from penetrating through its transparent wings.
Satyadev Dubey died yesterday and is closer to the sun now. But that night, tucked away in a lane in Juhu under canopy of fake stars, I had discovered the full thrust and throb of what “effing your head off” truly meant. It was about chasing an evanescent dream, and when it assaults resistance gives way to release.