Mahesh Dattani is arguably one of the defining features of contemporary Indian theatre. His plays covered a wide range of socio-political themes, and despite being written in English, have managed to capture the paradigms of modern Indian life. The most recent of his works, published by Penguin, features two of his newest plays, as well as a long essay titled Me and My Plays, which describes Dattani's foray into Theatre, and his long journey which shaped him as the renowned playwright that he is today. His influences, pitfalls, misgivings, successes have been written from a very personal perspective, by the playwright himself.
In the essay, Dattani describes his inculcation into the world of theatre, and the small but significant events which lead the way. From hearing about plays in Bombay which his father used to reminisce about, to wanting to be an actor, and discovering his love for dance, the candor with which the essay has been written immediately makes the reader feel very welcome. Dattani describes the erosion of his regional language from his sensibilities, thanks to the strict English training he received at school he describes the alienation he felt from his roots, and the feeling of not quite belonging anywhere.
Dattani's shy school days did not allow him the courage to venture into the world of theatre, but during college, he started getting more and more involved with performance art. He describes feeling free of the shackles of language and its limitations while writing Where There is a Will, and he describes his feelings as he watched plays written and directed by others. Dattani also goes on to describe the rejection he faced as an actor, his new found love for dancing, and the invaluable training this form of performance art gave to his sensibilities in terms of classical knowledge. He talks about discovering mentors, facing rejection, and he also candidly talks about his favorite triptych from the collection of his works. What is so striking about the essay is the honesty and the humility with which it is written. The reader of this essay travels through Dattani's journey, and is immediately drawn into the story.
The book also contains two of his most recent plays, Where Did I Leave My Purdah? And The Big Fat City. The former is about an aged actress coming to terms with her past, while the latter is a dark comedy about the big, baffling city that is Mumbai. Where Did I Leave My Purdah? Is preceded by a forward by Lillete Dubey, who plays the role of the main character. Nazia is an old lady who was once a famous actor. The play reveals her insecurities, her frailty and her limitations as she tries to come to terms with them. Funny and heart-breaking, the play revolves around the vivacious, feisty, scandalizing Nazia as she battles the demons of her past, despite trying her level best to keep them away. The play flits in and out of flashbacks, and Nazia is reminded of her torrid love affair with theatre and her repressed past.
Big Fat City is a dark comedy about the myriad people who live in the brilliant metropolitan called Mumbai. The play focuses on the occupants of a residential complex and their idiosyncrasies. From a failing actress in a soap to an aspiring, somewhat clueless younger actress, from young men working for multinational companies to alcoholic husbands, the play uses humor to reveal the distractions and limitations in the lives of these people. Someone gets killed in a drunken brawl, and mayhem unsues in the play. While it will definitely make you laugh, it will also rip off the flimsy exterior within which we contain our lives and its tribulations.
An English writer with a very distinctive Indian voice, Me and My Plays is a celebration of the making of an important playwright in the annals of Indian Theatre.
Book Source: Publisher
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: Rs. 299/-