ALMOST 30 years ago, city-based theatre artiste Atul Pethe had stumbled upon a book by YD Phadke that described life and times of Late Professor RD Karve, a pioneer in initiating family planning and birth control for masses in Mumbai, and started the very first birth control clinic in India. Though Pethe was barely 15 years old that time, he was completely blown by the book that described Karve’s progressive and rational views related to relationships, sexuality and sexual freedom. Two years back, Pethe collaborated with famous playwright Ajit Dalve, who wrote the script of the Samajswasthya, a play on Karve’s life and works. The play by Pethe-founded theatre group Natak Ghar will premiere as part of 9thAnnual Vinod Doshi Theatre Festival and will be take place on February 28, 7.30 pm at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha. Samajswasthya will be re-staged on March 5 at Bharat Natya Mandir, 5 pm.
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Throwing light on Karve’s life, Pethe said that the late professor was renowned for his intellectual, logical, scientific and rational approach. For 27 years, he ran ‘Samajswasthya’, a magazine that propagated mental and physical health, and carried well-researched articles about theatre, films, painting, and culinary arts as well as social and political issues. Besides, it also carried writing that proclaimed sexual freedom. It became the cause of controversy on several occasions since it published pictures containing nudity and writing that questioned the old concepts of sexuality. The magazine was labelled obscene and he (Karve) had to face trials for it. It prompted many debates and discussions on several topics such as gender relations, sexuality, sexual freedom, traditional versus modern perspective on sexuality, societal pretense versus openness, scientific view of sexual issues etc, said Pethe.
The play is contemporary and relevant in many ways, said Pethe. “People who question have always been disliked by the society and government. And Karve was someone who questioned not just the establishment and religion but also age-old traditions and concepts of sexuality, without any inhibitions. The society tried to curb his freedom of expression decades ago. People like Karve, such as Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, the rationalists were also disliked for their views. The topic of this play is socio-political and extremely necessary and relevant in this day and age. At the core of the play are freedom of thought, freedom of expression and sexual freedom making it simultaneously disturbing and thought-provoking,” said Pethe, whose previous works include ‘Ashadhateel Ek Divas’, ‘Protest’, ‘Tarkachya Khuntivarun Nisatlele Rahasya’ and ‘Kumar Sangkara’.
Pethe said that after he came in touch with Dalvi, the duo further read texts about Karve extensively that included Anant Sardeshmukh’s eight books on Karve as well as 200 original copies of the magazines ‘Samajswasthya’. The script was reworked, rewritten and improvised several times before the final draft. “There is so much to Karve’s personality that it is impossible to cover all the dimensions in a two-and-a-half-hour long play,” said Pethe, adding that unfortunately, despite Karve’s invaluable work in the field of birth-control in the country, he was largely ignored by people.