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Celebrated playwright Mahesh Dattani opens up about his journey, future plans and the present scenario of theatre in India

A playwright who gives 60 million English-speaking Indians an identity” – nothing sums up Mahesh Dattani better than Indian theatre legend Alyque Padamsee’s words. From gender related issues, to child and women abuse, to religious fundamentalism and homosexuality, Mahesh Dattani’s plays have touched issues that would have caused many others to shy away. There is a lot more to the first Indian playwright in English to receive the Sahitya Akademi award than we know.
Althought Dattani started his journey as an actor in 1979, he carved himself in the role of a director effortlessly. Commenting on his journey so far, he says, “I started writing for the theatre in the mid-eighties. My first play was Where There’s a Will in 1988. Then I wrote Dance Like a Man in 1989 which is still being performed. It has been a fabulous journey since 1985, over 30 years now. And it hasn’t stopped.”
In these three decades of his work, he has had many pit stops. When asked to highlight just two he says, “One was definitely meeting Alyque Padamsee. He saw my play and was keen that I write more. It was only when he chose to direct my play that I gained national recognition. The second was meeting Lillete Dubey in the mid-nineties.”
A person known to handle three productions in a day in different cities, he says he does not want to be remembered as a legend, but just ‘as an artiste who did not give in to popular taste’. When asked about his future plans and projects he replies, “I am working on another musical and directing film versions of three of my plays.”
The noted writer and playwright is upbeat about the survival of plays and performance. “Traditional theatre survived because it was a family profession. Like a cottage industry, many folk forms survived. Even classical music survived because of the Gharanas. In today’s scenario, theatre is an orphan. But that doesn’t mean it is not doing well, it only means that it has to take care of itself,” says the 58-year-old director asserting that artistes have to find means and ways to sustain the art form independently without help from theatre or state.
The playwright is in the city for the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival where his play Gauhar directed by Lillete Dubey will be staged. “It is based on the life and times of the celebrated thumri singer Gauhar Jaan. She lived life on her terms. She changed the course of Indian music by singing her three-minute Thumris for the gramophone company, over a hundred years ago,” he concludes.

Details: Gauhar written by Mahesh Dattani will be staged on November 11 at Ravindra Bharati.
Ticket prices: From `200 to `1,000

— Nishad Neelambaran

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