Talk about modern Indian theatre, and the name Mahesh Dattani always features prominently, what with acclaimed works like Dance Like a Man and Bravely Fought The Queen to his name. The playwright’s new book, Me and My Plays, is of particular importance, because Dattani tells his own story in it.
Among other things, he talks about his hometown (Bengaluru), the Mumbai theatre scene of the ’70s-’80s, his interest in theatre at a young age, and his desire to learn Bharatanatyam at a not-so-young age (in his twenties).
Back in the 1980s, how was theatre seen as a career option?
I couldn’t tell people I wanted to do theatre. “What do you really want to do?” I’d be asked. It wasn’t gainful employment; that’s a concern even today. You could do theatre only if you did film or TV on the side.
So, you’re not critical of actors using theatre as a stepping stone to films?
Out of the tens of thousands who aspire to be actors, 99 per cent are just interested in fame and money. You need to look at the remaining one per cent who see it as an artistic form. There are those whose first love remains theatre, such as Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi.
Your play on gay love, A Muggy Night in Mumbai, was criticised by the LGBT community. Was it odd that a community asking others to be liberal couldn’t take a liberal viewpoint?
The play was critical about the gay sub-culture and the mainstream. Naturally, neither liked it. It’s true of all minorities. It’s okay to criticise the majority, but not them.
What was your reaction to the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377?
I think people misunderstood the verdict. My first reaction was also an emotional one, and I saw it as re-criminalisation. But when I read it, the Supreme Court judge said this was not his job, but that of the Parliament. Homosexuality, after all, is not a lifestyle choice, it’s natural. You’re wired differently, like being left-handed.
There’s been some criticism of literature festivals, that writers attend so many of them, they don’t have the time to write.
Yes, that can happen, but you can’t criticise festivals for it. It’s like Facebook. You can ask, what’s the point of being logged into it? Personally, I look forward to them, to meeting new people, and friends you don’t always get to meet.
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