Review of Exits and Entrances Cafe Alibaba and Other Plays by Satish Khot

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Review of Launch programme of Exits and Entrances on Sunday 15th August 2021

Mohini Khot began the programme by welcoming everyone present and congratulating all the members of the Book Club who had been published. She went on to say that it has always been special to have authors on the Book Club platform, talking about their own books. Particularly special are the presentations made by Book Club members who have been published. She named several members who had found publishers for their fiction and non-fiction works. Among them Abhay Vaidya and Sunanda Mehta have garnered noteworthy success in terms of publicity and sales. However, other members like Nani Rao, Sesh Rao, Rita Chhablani, Mala Rihan, Jayashree Dhillon, Shehnaz Sethna and Jharna Banerjee are also to be congratulated for their publications. She was happy to add one more name to the list of published Book Club members – that of Satish Khot, the founder of the Book Club.

While in conversation with Satish Khot, she briefly summed up his background, mentioning the fact that he was an Army brat and therefore had his school education “all over the place”, that he was a chemical engineer from IIT Bombay and had an MBA from IIM Calcutta. He went on to a corporate career working for several companies. He was Chief Executive of an American company. He then decided to work for himself and spent a decade as a Consultant to industries. A decade of activism followed that, when he was involved, as President of NSCC, in protecting the environment, improving conditions of living and demanding transparency and accountability in governance in Pune. With this background, how did he become a writer? Satish recounted a couple of interesting anecdotes to reveal that he had always nursed the ambition of writing and was happy that it had come to be. In response to a question about his surprising choice of the genre of drama, he was unable to explain how that happened, except that it did!

His first play, Café Alibaba, was performed on the Gyan Adab stage in December 2018. It was house full! All the leading newspapers – The Times of India, Indian Express and Hindustan Times – gave it very good reviews. Perhaps because of these good reviews, the play was invited to the Art and Theatre Festival in February 2019. This excellent experience gave him the impetus to continue writing. 7 more plays followed in the next couple of years. However, because of the Lockdown situation, they could not be performed in a public space. Manto and the Dhoban was given a dramatic play reading on a Zoom platform and was appreciated. The way forward now seemed publication rather than performance.

Farook Merchant, the founder of Gyan Adab congratulated Satish and spoke of his warm personality which made him a “people person”. While working with him (Satish is a founder member of the Managing Committee of Gyan Adab) he found him always very positive, forthcoming, helpful and adept at finding ways of solving problems.

Sunita Shetty, a Marketing Consultant in the IT industry, said she had enjoyed the experience of playing the role of the Dhoban in the play Manto and the Dhoban. While rehearsing her role and reading the dialogues, she realized what a strong persona the Dhoban had been designed as. She enjoyed portraying the unfolding of the unexpectedly bold character of that very young girl who had, nevertheless, seen much more of the raw life than should have been.

The next speaker, Chetan Shetty, Chief Executive Officer of Extentia Information Technology Ltd, who played the role of Manto in the play, had much to say about the seamless way Satish had combined history and fiction in the action. Many of the happenings in the play are historical facts. Manto was indeed reluctant to leave Bombay, in spite of the persuasion of his wife who had gone to Pakistan. Manto’s love of Bombay, his immersion in the life of the city, his work as a screenplay writer in the film industry – all these are reflected in the play. A very astute point he made was that the way Manto interacts with the fictional character - the Dhoban – is so credible since we know that he particularly enjoyed meeting, understanding and portraying disadvantaged individuals from the margins of society. His short stories and plays are strewn with prostitutes, petty criminals and the like.

The director of Café Alibaba, Anub George appreciated the trust that Satish had placed in him. After a discussion of the play, he left it in his hands and arrived only to see the play when it was performed for the public. Anub felt that each of the characters rang true. He enjoyed the recreation of the atmosphere of the Irani café, a beloved institution in Pune, dear to the hearts of all Punekars. He mentioned his sense of pride when the play was chosen for the Smart City Festival. There had been many applicants but this play must have been chosen because it is so true to the spirit of Pune.

Mohini introduced Snober Sataravala, an Associate Professor of English, as the person who had accepted the challenge of being the first reader and critic of the plays. Knowing that she would be honest and straight forward in her comments, she was the perfect critic Satish needed! Snober spoke about the last play in the collection – Waiting… She found it a very realistic and convincing depiction of a husband and wife interacting in the severely restricted situation of the Lockdown. Tempers get frayed, boredom and irritation express themselves in sarcasm, stress and frustration plays out as doors are slammed, peevishness surfaces. This play, she said, like all of them in the collection, captures the sound of everyday conversation so well. The couple in question, however, have an even greater problem than just the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. She found that the play touched upon so many problems created by the pandemic – online education, class injustice, loss of income, frustration, how one’s sense of well being is put in jeopardy.

Several participants in the session spoke up to congratulate Satish and encourage him to write more.
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  • Sunita Trivedi

I just finished reading Exits and Entrances by Satish Khot. After years I read a collection of plays, in English and that too written by an Indian author. It was an extremely good read . Firstly it is rare that writers write plays these days and secondly all the plays were so topical and in a context of here and now.

Hence the characters and situations are v relatable. The language is simple and apt to the characters. The style is racy. One does not want yo skip anything, infact there is no time or occasion for that. All the plays have a positive ending. This ofcourse gives you a feel good factor. I hope Satish Khot brings out another collection and hopefully written when the pandemic is over so we can come across his style in another environment. Suneeta Trivedi