Circa 1978. At Indira Gandhi's residence in Delhi. That's me in ponytails standing in the front looking anywhere except at the camera.
A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. This one was taken just after the Emergency – one of the darkest periods in modern Indian political history – had been lifted. At a time when Indira Gandhi and her party had taken a beating in the elections that followed and her popularity was at an all time low. A time when the country was filled with uncertainty and the ideals of democracy espoused by the Gandhian freedom fighters had severely and brutally been put to the test. Kanyadaan is set in the period preceding those difficult years. In an era where there were still those great idealistic politicians of the protagonist Nath Devlalikar's ilk. Many of them had become disillusioned with the Congress and had migrated to the Socialist party because they believed in fighting for a progressive, just, equal society that was devoid of the scourge of untouchability and casteism.
While the plot centers on the theme of Nath's idealism and his quest to bring about larger societal change by promoting equality in his own home, what drew me to this play and truly appealed to me as a director was the deeply personal human story that emerges. Of a father and a daughter. Of that unspoken hero worship that starts for a little girl long before she even becomes aware of it. Jyoti, the female protagonist in the story, is that daughter. The apple of her father's eye. There is a beauty and simplicity to their relationship that slowly unravels as the play progresses until it leads to an ending that is shockingly unexpected, gut wrenching and shakes one to the core. It is a testament to Tendulkar's mastery that he seamlessly weaves a story that can at times be touching, funny, and at other times cruel and disturbing within the context of larger questions about nationalism and progress.
Between me and my late father, there was a bond that cannot be described in words. There was unbounded affection and love. But there was also immense respect and sheer awe. Of his intellect. His vast repertoire of knowledge. His principles. His ideals. The manner in which he chose to live his life with honor and integrity. It made me want to be like him. In every way. To live up to that impossible standard. To make him proud. Only now, more than two years after his passing, am I even becoming aware of the influence he had on me. As I begin to wake up to it and as I try to make sense of it through what's left of my own memories, I'm stunned by how complex this father-daughter relationship which I took for granted all my life, truly is. I see it developing and evolving even between my own ten-year-old daughter and her father. And as I try to do justice to this story in its telling, I find myself digging deep into that reservoir of personal stories and often brace myself for the impact of the overwhelming emotions that come tumbling out. I would like to dedicate this production to my father. And to fathers and daughters everywhere.
– Sindu Singh