EXCLUSIVE: Mahesh Dattani set to stage Lorca's Blood Wedding in Hindi in New York
Soft spoken and erudite, Mahesh Dattani is the first playwright in English to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi award. Down the years he has written several hit plays including Where There’s A Will, Dance Like A Man, Tara, The Murder That Never Was, Brief Candle, The Big Fat City and Double Deal Reloaded.
He initially worked as a copy writer for an advertising agency – an origin that he shares with masters such as Ray, Rituparno Ghosh and Alyque Padamsee – before taking to writing full time.
Currently, Dattani is in New York, where he will be staging an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Spanish classic, Blood Wedding in Hindi, titled Rakt Phera.
In between rehearsals, Indulge had an exclusive email chat with Dattani on his latest work and his love for theatre. Excerpts:
Yes, I am currently in New York, working with the Indian Cultural Society of East Brunswick. I am doing an adaptation of Lorca’s Spanish classicBlood Wedding in Hindi, titled Rakt Phera. I begin rehearsals in a few days. The play has music and singing in it, so, it is a rather complicated production and I only have four weeks to pull it off. Recently, I had directed another play of Lorca’s called Yerma. This was in Mumbai with the students of The Drama School, Mumbai. The play was received really well. We did ten performances in Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Ninasam. Rakt Phera will open at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick on August 4. It will then have shows at the prestigious Theatre 80 in downtown New York. Last year, my play Chak de Chekhov, Indian adaptations of Chekhov’s stories was performed there.
Who will act in the play?
The cast will comprise members of the ICS here in the US. They are a group of dedicated actors based in the US, most of whom I have worked with last year and the year before that. So, I already have a strong rapport with many. In fact, it feels like an extended family here, especially with actress Barkha Kishanani with whom I stay with whenever I visit the US. Also, the South Asian Theatre Festival founder Dipan Ray has been inviting us every year to perform at his festival, which has built a strong reputation in the New Jersey area.
What was the audience reaction across the country to your latest version of Double Deal Reloaded?
Audiences have liked the play very much. It is an edge of the seat thriller and many people in Kolkata came backstage to say how much they liked it. We have only done six shows so far. It is a commercial play and will travel to many cities under the supervision of AGP World producer Ashvin Gidwani. This is the first time I am doing such a commercial play and it has been a huge learning experience. Sometimes, we theatre people take ourselves too seriously! It is nice to relax and have fun.
Actor Manjari Fadnis debuted in this play. How did you find her as an actor?
For Manjari this is the first time on stage. She is an extremely talented actor and I am positive she will do well on stage. Already, she has received many offers for more stage roles. But I think Double Deal will keep her busy for another year at least as the producer has a major travel tour planned.
What are the other new projects you are working on?
I have a new play called Snapshots of a Fervid Sunrise, a play on forgotten heroes Khudiram Bose and Thellaiaadi Valliammai, two teenagers who sacrificed with their lives to fight an unjust government. The play questions the heroes we choose today as models for youth. The play has already received good notices in Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and other areas. Hopefully, it will come to Kolkata as well. I am also directing a play on Irom Sharmila, the charismatic activist from Manipur who lost the elections in spite of being a champion of the cause of ending army rule in her state. The play is written by Shanta Gokhale and is directed by me.
Do you think theatre needs more to be done to arouse interest in the new generation?
I think there are many young people who are interested in theatre. More so today than before. A lot more has to be done to accommodate this new talent -- from training centres to performance venues that would appeal to young people.
Are there any innovations that can be attempted in terms of set and production when it comes to theatre?
Theatre works best when it is innovative and challenges conventional designs and approaches. The art of the theatre will continue to evolve. Today, sets are far more imaginative and simple. Production standards have been raised. Because of globalisation, we have access to the best of theatre worldwide. The theatre of tomorrow will not be elaborate in style, but rich in content, imagination, and originality.
In all these years how do you think has theatre grown and changed?
Theatre will eventually move out of conventional proscenium arch auditoria and will be performed more and more in intimate spaces. They provide a greater connect to the audience, making it a very powerful art form. In Mumbai, there are many trained actors, directors, writers than before. Many have trained abroad and so, bring a fresh perspective to the art form. This will obviously change the aesthetics of Indian theatre.
You have also directed quite a few films. Which medium do you prefer?
Cinema is a very powerful artistic medium, and so is theatre. The reason why I prefer theatre is because of its strong focus on creativity in presenting the content. Film is a very technical medium. The technique overwhelms the creative vision many a time. Several low budget films have to compromise on their content because of expenses involved. On the other hand, theatre can be done with very little.
How different are the young students who come to learn theatre from you?
I think students today are far more focused. I always prefer the student who wishes to learn first and then apply. In many of them, there is a haste to become an accomplished artist. Everything requires time and patience. All art forms require a lifetime of study. Ideally, students today must be willing to spend three years in training. This may not be possible for many but the art form demands it. If one were to become a classical singer, at least ten years would go in attaining some proficiency. Compared to that, three years is a small period of time.