Smita Ray – In Conversation With Mahesh Dattani

The interview extensively focusses on Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani’s choice of career and his choice of subject matters for his plays like Mango Souffle, Tara, Thirty Days in September, Uma and the Fairy Queen among several others. It widely talks about the other BBC Radio Plays as well. Dattani in this interview establishes to his audience that “the world is what we make of it.” His plays similarly talk about paternalistic dominance and acceptance of notions of heteronormativity as a mutual obligation, a society where girls are taught by their mothers and grandmothers to accept any kind of treatment unleashed by their husbands as an expression of love and affection, silently and happily. It also discusses how Dattani takes as his subject the complicated dynamics of modern urban family. It talks about the characters who struggle for some kind of freedom and happiness and often achieve them temporarily through their acts of negation and then finally submitting to themselves to the traditions of cultural constructions of gender and societal expectations.

The interview also brings to our notice Dattanis’s inspirations which include his dance guru and hence explains the tension and anxieties he might have faced like Amritlal’s sons Jairaj in Dance Like A Man.  His acknowledgement of Girish Karnad as “the most important living playwright we have in our country” also explains his extensive reading and influence of several of Karnad’s plays. The interview widely focusses on Dattani’s influence and intentions behind scripting and staging each of his plays including his first play  Where There’s A Will  to his  Final Solutions which bagged him the Sahitya Akademi Award. His recurring themes of an individual’s struggle over societal demands and inflictions have been noticed in almost all his plays which he termed as “empowered writing’. He has also mentioned how towards the end of his plays there is a coming to terms and the audience can experience a catharsis like situation. He has always put special emphasis on studying the audiences’ psyche, where they come from and why they come. Dattani’s choice of themes which mainly looks at the power play in class and gender doesn’t make him a social activist. Theatre, according to Dattani must address the playwright’s time and place so as to minimize the friction between individual, family and society. Dattani stands out by writing about the complexities of sub urban India where theatre in a country of regional and cultural diversity has to ultimately address a particular milieu. The clash between traditional and modern values in his work usually leads to their complex interplay where on the one had they are shown to be vehement against the socially prescribed rules of normativity but on the other hand are envisioning a life of tolerance and mutual recognition.

This interview though gives us a detailed information about Dattani’s life and career, but restricts itself to the discussion of very few plays and doesn’t talk about his themes in general. It doesn’t encompass Dattani’s view about his contemporary playwrights or the theatre audience of the country. Hence it can be conjectured that though this conversation has been successful in providing the necessary information about a few selected plays, but it has failed to quench the thirst of all his audiences and the theatre lovers all across the country about his choice of empowered writing over comedy or tragedy.

 

Banerjee, K, Utpal. Utpal K Banerjee in Conversation with Mahesh Dattani. Sahitya Akademi. Indian Literature. 48.5 ( Sep- Oct 2004)161- 167

 

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