(Last Updated on : 02/08/2014)
Mahesh Elkunchwar was born in 1939 into a landowning family in the small village of Parwa in the Vidarbha region, northern Maharashtra. He took his postgraduate degree in English from Nagpur University and taught the subject at Dharampeth Arts, Commerce and M. P. Deo Memorial Science College, Nagpur, retiring as Head in 1999.
Mahesh Elkunchwar became interested in writing for theatre after he got chance to see Vijay Tendulkar's Mijinkalo mi haralo i.e. 'I Won, I Lost' in 1965. The prestigious literary magazine Satyakatha published his first one-act play, Sultan, in 1967. Vijaya Mehta directed both Sultan and Holi, also published in Satyakatha in 1969, for Rangayan in 1970. Elkunchwar wrote eight one-act plays over the next five years, presenting a wide range of dramatic situations, theatrical devices, and speech rhythms. They revealed a preoccupation with death, loneliness, creativity, the illusion of wealth, and the apparent purposelessness of choice or action while the ultimate goal of life remained unknown. With the exception of Holi and Raktapushp i.e. 'Flower of Blood' published in 1972 and performed in 1981. They use symbols schematically and are composed in an expressionistic mode. This is also true of Elkunchwar's early full-length dramas, Rudravarsha i.e. 'Angry Rain' in 1968, Garbo in 1973, and Vasanakand i.e. 'Period of Desire' in 1974. Much later, in the philosophical comedy Pratibimb i.e. 'Reflection' in 1987, the symbols acquire a life beyond the schema. The discussion play Party in 1976 was followed by a fallow period, during which time Elkunchwar acted in Govind Nihalani's first film Akrosh i.e. 'Cry of the Wounded' in 1980. He also adapted the scenarios for Ketan Mehta's Holt in 1983 and Nihalani's Party in 1984 from his own plays.
In Wada chirebandi or 'Old Stone Mansion' in 1985, Elkunchwar returned to the culture he had grown up with, that of Brahman zamindars in the Vidarbha countryside. It records the invasion of urban values and corrupt business practices into this feudal culture, destroying everything that resists change. Magna talyakathi i.e. 'Pensive by the Pond' in 1994 and Yuganta i.e. 'End of an Age' in 1994 continued the story of these inhabitants of the 'Stone Mansion' and, through them, of contemporary society. The Wada trilogy, as the three plays came to be called, was performed over eight hours on 11 April 1994 in Mumbai. Acclaimed and criticized in equal measure, it constituted a brave experiment and a challenge to Marathi theatre as well. Elkunchwar's later plays include Atmakatha i.e. 'Autobiography' in 1988, which delves into the nature of reality and fiction and their interrelationship. Vasansi jirnani i.e. 'As Discarded Clothes' was published in 1996 and performed in 2000. This play was based on death. Dharmaputra i.e. 'Godson' was published in 1997, and Sonata is premiered in English translation, 2001 on the friendship of three women.
Elkunchwar's plays have gained national and international critical attention, and his growing body of work has become part of India's post-colonial theatrical canon. He has been honored in India with the Homi Bhabha Fellowship during the year 1976-78. He also got the Sangeet Natak Akademi annual award for best playwright. It was given by the National Academy of the Performing Arts, 1989. He was also awarded with Nandika in 1989, Maharashtra Gaurav in 1990, and the Maharashtra Foundation Award in 1997. Mahesh Elkunchwar got the Sahitya Akademi Award. The National Academy of Letters in 2002, and the Saraswathi Samman gave that. That was one of India's highest literary awards in 2003, and internationally with the Brittingham Fellowship in 2005.