Translated as “A Friend’s Story” from Marathi, “Mitrachi Goshta” is an Indian play by Vijay Tendulkar. First performed in 1981, Mitrachi Goshta is one of the first modern Indian plays dealing with lesbian themes or same-sex attraction. The very first version of the play in Marathi was published in 1982 by Nilkanth Prakashan. The English version of this Marathi play, done by Gowri Ramnarayan, was published in 2001 by Oxford University Press. Marathi stalwarts from the theatre space like Vinay Apte, Rohini Hattangadi, and Ujwala Jog were cast in the first premier in 1981.
Vijay Tendulkar’s many other works include path-breaking and “controversial” themes like pre-marital sex, childbirth, prostitution, and others. This play revolves around three students, Bapu, Sumitra, and Nama, in the pre-Independence era at a college in Pune. Bapu, who wishes to know more about Sumitra, stumbles across her inner struggles with her sexuality. The love triangle is between Bapu, a shy boy, Sumitra, an independent girl, and Nama. Sumitra has a secret that brings her down, along with Nama, who is Sumitra’s love interest.
Right at the start, it seems like a regular college setup where there is a budding friendship between two college students, Bapu and Sumitra. As everything seems to go smoothly and you think they will both fall in love, we are introduced to the gorgeous Nama. Sumitra’s feelings are reciprocated, much to her surprise. But we see that Bapu, because of his secret obsession with Sumitra, is hurt by all that is unfolding. The women face many obstacles but stay strong while sticking together and keeping their relationship going.
On the acceptability of the LGBT theme, actor-director Akash Khurana says, “There has always been and will be a conservative section in society who won’t appreciate the play.” That bit about our society hasn’t changed over the years. But the subject is spoken about more liberally now and the struggles of the LGBT community are relevant today.
According to the Mint review, “Same-sex desire was little understood in those times, and a conflicted Mitra soon launches into a self-destructive trajectory. While she is unwilling to sacrifice her innate desires, she inevitably ends up as an archetypal victim. “
In a review by the Hindustan Times, the reviewer wrote, “Tendulkar weaved in complex characters and intricate plotlines that broke the taboo on lesbian identities three decades ago. A play ahead of its time, it was intense, progressive, and highly controversial. Rohini Hattangady, who played the lead in the theatre play, said, ‘In those days, nobody talked, let alone put up a play on the subject.'” Known as a play that is way ahead of its time, Mitrachi Goshta was progressive and intense.
A Friend’s Story, or Mitrachi Goshta, was path-breaking when it came out and is still one of the best classic plays when it comes to queer-themed stage plays and is incredibly famous in the world of Indian theatre.