One of India’s most prolific English playwrights, recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, an exceptional theatre-maker, Mahesh Dattani needs no introduction.
A pioneer in several ways, Dattani has always broken the traditional boundaries of Indian theatre, while stretching the seams of topics that have been often marked as taboo – be it homosexuality, sexual assault or toxic masculinity. His propelling passion, and sensitive wording has inspired theatre lovers through the years while staying relevant across generations.
We caught up with Mahesh Dattani, to know more about five of his most stunning and thought provoking plays. We explored his personal motivations and the socio-cultural landscape that facilitated the creation of each of these masterpieces and how he was able to #MakeAScene

Dance Like a Man

What was the socio-political scenario of the country, especially in terms of having a discourse around sexuality, when you had penned this play?
Dance Like a Man is about the artificial constructs of gender. Society expects the male to be the provider and the female to be the nurturer.
It came about when I was studying bharatanatyam. One of the students who used to practice along with me, told me in private that he would appreciate it if I didn’t tell anyone that he was studying bharatanatyam. It hadn’t occurred to me then there was any stigma attached to learning bharatanatyam. But apparently for men it was and I assume it still is. Since it was inspired by an incident, I don’t see the play as ahead of its time. It was for its time. It is a different thing that times haven’t changed much!
The core of the story about artistic ideals, following your heart came from my Gurus Smt. Chandrabhaga Devi and Sri U S Krishna Rao’s various anecdotes about their struggle in the 50s to be artistes.
Source: CinePlay

30 Days in September

With concept of familial abuse being fairly taboo till date, would you say the intent of the play was to purely invoke shock value, or did it have an unavoidable social agenda?

The play was commissioned by RAHI an NGO that offers counseling services to survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA). During that time (early 2000s) it was very important to address this issue for public awareness and so RAHI approached me to write about it.
It took me a year of research and the result is a combination of several real life stories. When Lillete Dubey heard my concept, she said yes to directing it even before I had completed the script. Yes, people at that time were avoiding a social agenda especially on CSA because it seemed to be repulsive a subject for many. I am glad that RAHI approached me and Lillete had the courage to take it on without thinking of the possible consequence of commercial failure. I am forever grateful to Anuja Gupta and Ashwini Ailawadi of RAHI to give me this opportunity to write what I consider to be my most challenging play.
Source: PrimeTime Theatre Co.
Where there is a Will

They say, often a writer’s toughest project is their first complete work. What pushed and motivated you to finish Where There is a Will? Was there a sense of euphoria after you finished it, or a looming sense of “What next”?
I think it was fool hardiness that compelled me to complete my first work. Many of my theatre peers were skeptical of my abilities and so was I! But I was foolish enough to commit the play as my production at the prestigious Deccan Herald Theatre Festival. With a deadline looming large, I had no choice but to write it. I began directing the play even before the final script was ready!
Yes it was a feeling of relief and a sense of accomplishment that I experienced first before the question ‘What next” came about.
Source: Mahesh Dattani
Where Did I leave my Purdah? 
The event of the partition and the fable of Shakuntala has been used as a context to tell several stories of abandonment and heartbreak. Would you feel the need to redo the context if you had to showcase Where Did I Leave My Purdah to a new-age audience ? Also, what triggered this particular play?
The play is a tribute to theatre artists. I don’t feel the need to change the context at all. A story is a story and it finds universality only through its specificity. In fact, I am currently directing the play for ZEE5 in the film format. I haven’t made any alterations. There is also an Australian production of the play to be directed by Saba Abdi Zaidi, whose family has been closely associated with theatre.
Source: PrimeTime Theatre Co.
On a Muggy Night in Mumbai
 
On a Muggy Night in Mumbai was written at a time when pride walks, LGBTQ counseling, LGBTQ icons on magazine covers was not a thing. Did it require emotional strength to write this play? As the spectrum continues to evolve, would you include more sexualities if the play were to be staged tomorrow?
I was inspired to write On a Muggy Night in Mumbai after I attended a party that had some very vibrant people present. Almost every character in the play is drawn from the people present at the party. The play is a tribute to them. Again, the play is definitely not inclusive of the entire LGBTQ spectrum. I think every person deserves a story of their own. The more inclusive you get, the more representational your story gets. As I said earlier, drama is about specificity. The universality is inherent in the truth contained in each one of us.
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