BRING­ING INTO PLAY

Hav­ing re­vived his Ben­galuru-based theatre group Playpen, veteran play­wright Ma­hesh Dat­tani is now busier than ever

India Today - - LEISURE - —Sukant Deepak

On one level, the theatre of Ma­hesh Dat­tani is is­sue-based. His plays grap­ple with same-sex love and com­mu­nal ten­sion, rep­re­sent­ing deftly, at times, mid­dle-class sen­si­bil­i­ties and mar­i­tal strife. The play­wright wants to bring to stage the tur­moil that his con­tem­po­raries of­ten ig­nore.

Dat­tani was the first English play­wright to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1998. Alyque Padamsee once cred­ited him for giv­ing mil­lions of In­dian English speak­ers an iden­tity. Now, after al­most a decade of com­mer­cial theatre in Mum­bai, Dat­tani has re­vived his Ben­galu­rubased theatre group Playpen, set up in 1984. “The time has now come to again fo­cus on new and orig­i­nal works, not just mine, but of other writ­ers too,” he says.

In his lat­est play, Dance Me to the End of Love, Dat­tani in­tro­duces young play­wright Avan­tika Shankar, but also stages his queer love story along­side. “It’s about the kind of dat­ing that starts over chat and Face­book, cul­mi­nat­ing in a phys­i­cal meet­ing. It’s al­most an ode to so­cial net­work­ing which gave queer love a meet­ing ground,” he says.

A writer of glob­ally suc­cess­ful

plays, such as Fi­nal So­lu­tions, Tara and Bravely Fought the Queen, Dat­tani says he is now work­ing on a solo piece, Snap­shots of a Fervid Sun­rise. Based on the lives of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies Khudi­ram Bose and Thillaiyad­i Val­liammai—both teenage rebels who fought against the sys­tem—the script ques­tions the thin line be­tween free­dom-fight­ing and ter­ror­ism. “These were teenagers con­sumed by a de­sire that was re­mark­ably ma­ture. The play is most rel­e­vant today as we of­fer new su­per­heroes to young In­di­ans, or re­vive older ones that res­onate strongly with the present po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.”

Now that many of his plays are be­ing tele­cast on TV, Dat­tani is pleased his work is reach­ing more peo­ple. “As we be­come more dis­in­te­grated as a so­ci­ety, the arts will come at a pre­mium. Maybe tele­vised drama will form a new lan­guage or, hope­fully, make peo­ple cu­ri­ous to come watch it live in the theatre,” he says.

Dat­tani feels that over the past 10 years, English theatre in In­dia has moved to a space that af­fords sig­nif­i­cant pos­si­bil­ity: “It def­i­nitely is in a zone where some­thing in­ter­est­ing will emerge, es­pe­cially once it’ll move out of the fa­mil­iar area of per­sonal iden­tity.” ■

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