The makers of Katha Arunachi, a Marathi play based on the tragic journey of former KEM nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, yesterday recounted how a sense of compassion imbued them even as they were allowed to see her only from a distance while preparing to stage her story in 2002.

A scene from the play in which Chinmayee Sumeet played Aruna
A scene from the play in which Chinmayee Sumeet played Aruna

Vaijayanti Apte, wife of late Vinay Apte, who directed the play, remembered the interaction with doctors and nurses of KEM Hospital associated with Aruna, who was in a vegetative state ever since her brutal rape by a ward boy, Sohanlal Valmiki, in 1973.

“We were not allowed to meet Aruna, but were asked to see her from a distance. A sense of compassion and sadness arose after seeing her,” Apte said. “The play was written by Dattakumar Desai, and Vinayji thought that the story of an upright, gritty young nurse whose life takes a sad turn made a good subject.

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But we took care to ensure that the dramatised version of the real-life incident did not, in any way, cast aspersions on the victim, as she was a living person,” Apte, a former journalist herself, said. She said her husband, who directed and produced the play, had invited the KEM staff to see the rehearsals.

“Only after their clearance were we ready to stage the play in 2002,” she said, adding that the hospital set was re-created on stage by Pradeep Mulay. Chinmayee Sumeet played Aruna, while Abhay Rane enacted the character of ward boy, Sohanlal Valmiki.

“The shows went on for nearly two years. Marathi audiences go to watch plays for entertainment and recreation. Despite the good reviews, the feedback we got was that the audience went back with a sad feeling. So, we did not carry on,” she said.

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“In the last 42 years, Aruna was denied the experience of enjoying life. It is sad that her youth was cut short so cruelly and she did not get justice till the end,” Apte said.