When working in the theatre or studying theatre as a student we tend to stick to the familiar. There will be a range of realist plays, some absurdism and then there will be the odd world theatre text used, something ranging from Greek to Noh or Bunraku. What I am sure some of us do not do is look at our local community and see what is happening now in the arts. This blog will focus on a playwright that I had the luck to meet and learn about in a local library in India. His name is Mahesh Dattani.
The other day I went to a Junoon organised event. Junoon is a group of artsists that came together to start an organisation that brings arts to the community in their community. They arrange talks, shows, exhibitions and workshops for people all across the city. They always send me emails of what is on, but I rarely get the chance to join in. This week was an exception, as I was able to head downtown after school and listen to Mahesh speak about his life and his work.
He is described in the International Herald Tribune as ‘One of India’s most serious and well-known playwrights’.
Yes, he is now well known, and he is serious about theatre, the live performance and what it means to connect with an audience and move them in such a way that the audience
a) laughs as one at something that you thought only you found funny
b) is on the edge of their seats, held in a moment of suspense where, as one, they want to know the outcome
c) smiles at characters on stage they can relate to, identify with or empathise with
He has spent his career finding this connection, and in his memoires writes about his connection to dance. He always wanted to be a dancer, worked hard at it, and describes the 6 years he spent learning dance as his most ‘formative years, both as a human being and an artist.’ (p25, Dattani. 2014) He goes on to say in his book:
‘ My gurus could not make a dancer out of me, but they gave me the sense of discipline that set me apart from other practitioners. They put me in touch with the richness of classical tradition. ……. Basically it opened my mind to all the tools needed for a dramatist; from the bhavas and rasas to precision and rhythm on stage – I learnt all this from them. Even today, I go back to the basics of my dance training to further my understanding of theatre. (ibid)
Mahesh Dattani has written many plays including:
- ‘Dance like a man’
- Where did I put my Purdah?
- ‘Seven steps around the fire’
They all focus on Indian culture and are written in the language that Dattani communicates in – Indian English – a language that is now universal. He breathes the life of India into his plays, so for me and my students we are embracing the Internationalism of the IB, the culture we are living in and the arts in the city we inhabit. I suggest that you try to find a similar connection in your own school community and country.
‘Me and My Plays’ Mahesh Dattani, 2014. Penguin.
‘Collected Plays’ Mahesh Dattani, 2000. Penguin