Mahesh Dattani talks to AYESHA MATTHAN about everything — from his plays to theatre at large

Director, dancer, playwright and actor Mahesh Dattani says he wants to bring home to the world. In the midst of many things, the Bangalore-bred, Mumbai-based Mahesh says: “When I wrote ‘Where there’s a will’, ‘Tara’ and ‘Dance Like a Man’, I was still the Bangalore boy, still very much limited to the city and its experiences.

‘Final Solutions’ about the nature of prejudice and concerns of communal harmony was the point of my departure.” “Final Solutions” was a play written to grow out of preoccupations of self-identity. Another play “Thirty Days in September” was set outside a familiar social milieu. “I interacted and spoke with eight survivors of child sexual abuse in an NGO called Rahi in Delhi.”

For Mahesh, it was an insightful journey. Instead of emphasising on their experiences as traumatic, it was remarkable to see them as survivors and not victims.

He is positive that Bangalore English theatre has moved on from the Broadway-style productions that were prominent in the 80s and 90s and found its own voice.

‘“Double Deal’ has very little of me — it has the twists and turns of a typical engaging thriller and ‘Mad about Money’ is an adaptation that I revisited and is a comedy.” Mahesh admires Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen, Madhusudan Rye and Vijay Tendulkar. On whether the third gender is stereotyped in the dizzy world of films, Mahesh points out: “The male and female genders are also stereotyped, so it’s not only the third gender that is stereotyped.”

He feels that the audience always changes and is unpredictable. “It is important theatre becomes a place for them to forget their sense of time and space, and transport them to an imaginary time and space.” Regional flare-ups both in both Mumbai and Bangalore, he feels are not a clash of cultures. “It is regional defence on the issue of insensitivity.” But, he feels that politicians and the media play it up and blow it out of proportion.

“As citizens we should not brush it under the carpet.”

Bangalore has seen the downside of globalisation in its nylon culture and malls. “The point of conflict lies not in traditional versus modern cultures but in the appropriation of the economy by global giants.”

He points out that this sense of property and territory has conveniently elbowed out indigenous traders. “This concept of let the best preside is wrong as it becomes a case of let the biggest edge out the rest.” This, he feels, is not liberalisation but social inequity. For Mahesh, theatre schooling is not a must.

“Formal workshops become a space for observations and expansion. It is easy to feel that you know it all. It’s important not to be bound by the mentor’s experiences and move on.”

Productions1988 Where there’s A Will1989 Dance like A Man1990 Tara 1991 Bravely Fought the Queen 1992-93 Final Solutions (which won him the Sahitya Akademi)

1996 Night Queen (Short play)

1997 Do the Needful (Radio play)

1998 On a Muggy Night in Mumbai, Seven Steps around the Fire 2000 The Swami and Winston (Radio play), Tale of the Mother feeding her child (Radio tale)

2001 Thirty days in September2002 Mango Souffle2004 Morning Raga2006 Mad about Money

2007 Double Deal Unto his own

When he’s not backstage

I love yoga and dancing! I do join Salsa classes in Mumbai and thoroughly enjoy them although I am not very good at it. Every morning, the crossword puzzle and sudoku is a must as it wakes me up for the day. When I feel tired from writing, I take a walk in a park close by and a simple activity like that can recharge your batteries.

His journey on and off stage

My journey has been more like director to actor to playwright. I started off directing a play for a friend of mine in Bangalore who was very keen to start his theatre group. Soon I managed to get bit parts in plays by Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT), but joining a workshop conducted by Ashok Mandanna gave me the acting bug. So for a while I was pretty much keen to be an actor/director. Having done some awful productions as a director/actor I was keen to direct more plays with an Indian content and hence took to writing.

Space for alternative/parallel cinema in India

I am not sure whether the spaces are large enough yet to make them profit worthy. But within mainstream cinema, a lot of content that was earlier denigrated as ‘fit for arty films only’ is now finding itself within the mainstream canvas. For instance, who would have thought that a film on a dyslexic child would be a commercial hit?

When he is in town

I really like to spend my time with my sister Padma and her family. I also enjoy meeting with friends and visiting old haunts such as Koshy’s. Coffee at the nearby fast food is a must (I mean Adigas and Chaitanya!)