BRINGING INTO PLAY
Having revived his Bengaluru-based theatre group Playpen, veteran playwright Mahesh Dattani is now busier than ever
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.” ■