Mahesh Dattani, who was in town recently for the staging of Gauhar is always happy to be back in Bengaluru, his first home.
Last week, Bengaluru boy and Sahitya Akademi winning playwright Mahesh Dattani returned to the city, and received a prodigal’s welcome. The occasion: the production of his play Gauhar, based on Vikram Sampath’s My Name is Gauhar Jaan, and directed by Lillete Dubey. The single show in Bangalore yielded a full house, and a standing ovation. Knowing Dattani for many years, I was keen to see what, if anything, had changed in the years since he moved to Mumbai 10 years ago. Happily, the quiet and unassuming writer is the same, glad to return home and as pleased as punch at the warm reception his work received. Dattani, whose successful plays include Dance Like A Man and 30 Days in September, is known for his strong women characters, and Gauhar, successful yet simultaneously tragic, is certainly one such.
Dattani loves Bengaluru, has family here and visits annually. But the changing city he sees on his recent visits perplexes him some what, he admits. “It’s hard to understand the city’s character today. It’s become somewhat faceless, full of fancy shops and people who choose to spend their time in malls.” Not the city he had left behind.
So what does he think about home number two? “I’m very happy in Bombay,” he admits, “I love its creative energy – it makes a huge difference to someone like me. Last week I was in (New York’s) Barnard College directing a play, and loved the energy there as well. So focused, brilliant.”
On to his play, Gauhar. Was it hard to adapt a book on a real-life character — a complex one at that, given the creative restrictions a historical adaptation brings? “The character of Gauhar came alive to me when I read Vikram’s book,” he says, “His research was exhaustive, I had minimal research to do of my own. Gauhar was a woman on the edge, but I didn’t see her as a victim. She was fascinating — with her
complicated relationships with the men in her life, her mother, her father. She’s out there with the grand divas of the world.” Still there was much hard work to be done. “I needed to be faithful to the events in her life as this wasn’t an original piece. You can’t question what happens sometimes, and remember, the truth can be more bizarre than fiction.”
The ultimate tragedy of Gauhar’s life is what gives the audience pause to think. “Love goes beyond rational thinking and trained reasoning. Gauhar actively sought love, and that was her ultimate downfall. If she hadn’t needed to, she could have had a secure life. Ultimately, she gave up her art for her love.”
But Dattani isn’t basking in Gauhar’s success. He is currently working on a new play. “I’m superstitious, so I don’t want to talk about it,” he says. We don’t mind. As long as he keeps returning to Bangalore, bringing his strong, empowered women characters with him.