The staging of Vijay Tendulkar’s Marathi play, Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The Court Is In Session), in 1967 is considered a milestone in Indian theatre. This powerful expose of chauvinism and hypocrisy is still relevant, which explains why it is performed widely, both in Marathi and in translation. The first production was directed by Arvind Deshpande with Sulbha Deshpande playing Leela Benare, the lead character.
Inspired by a conversation Tendulkar heard on a train, the play within a play is a mock trial on infanticide which turns into a real trial for the female protagonist, who reveals to her colleagues that she is pregnant out of wedlock. Under the pretext of acting, her male colleagues engage in a brutal character assassination and intimidate her to the point where she tries to flee from the room.
When the tension and passive aggression reach a climax, the players remove their costumes and say it was all an act. By that time, the woman is reduced to a wreck and the audience knows that whatever happened, happened for real. While drawing a parallel between actual courtroom dramas and theatre, it asks the audience to judge the truth value of both.
Theatre critic Deepa Gehlot says: “Like so many of his plays, this was an indictment of social hypocrisy and the kind of moral policing that is prevalent even today.”