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Playwright Mahesh Dattani plots detective film

By Hindol Sengupta, IANS


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After eunuchs, gays, mothers-in-law and adulterers, Mahesh Dattani's new muse is the detective.

"My next film is going have a central detective character," Dattani, one of India's foremost playwrights, told IANS in a freewheeling hour-long interview.

"I have always been interested in the detective genre. I grew up with Agatha Christie, P.D. James and, of course, Sherlock Holmes and watched all the noir films like the 'Maltese Falcon', so that interest in the genre has stayed."

The detective, feels the Sahitya Akademi award winner, has been tackled effectively in Indian cinema only by the inimitable Satyajit Ray.

"There was one genius - Ray, and then, nothing. I feel it is one of the most gripping genres for literature and cinema. I anyway like to do things that haven't really been done before," Dattani told IANS at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre.

Like writing about alternative sexuality more than a decade ago. "There was a lot of taboo when I first wrote about homosexuals and eunuchs. People were uncomfortable."

Even today, in a vastly different and more liberated India, Dattani said there were different realities about sexuality.

"On one hand, there are gay parades and walks demanding equal rights. More and more people are coming out of the closet and yet, there's total denial among some people.

"So fringe groups violently attack ideas about homosexuality, try to ban films, plays. It's all very dichotomous but none of it affects my work."

That's why Dattani is in Delhi for the first stage performance for his play on the eunuch community "Seven Steps Around The Fire", which was first written as a radio play for the BBC.

"Putting a radio play on stage has been a lot of work but also great fun. But I'm determined never again to try and translate a play into a film script.

"From now I'll only write original film scripts."

His play "On A Muggy Night in Mumbai" was turned into a film called "Mango Soufflé", but was barely noticed in India. However, it won rave reviews in Britain and the US and was nominated for the Commonwealth Film Festival last year.

He has made another film called "Morning Raga", which pitches traditional Carnatic music against techno trance. His famous play "Dance Like A Man" has also been made into a film by Pamela Rooks.

From the time he wrote his first play, "Where There's A Will" in 1986, Dattani has given voice to marginal groups and, as theatre guru Alyque Padamsee once said, to millions of English speaking Indians.

The staging of his powerful play on Hindu-Muslim conflict "Final Solutions" in December 1992 was postponed because a week earlier the Babri Masjid came down. It was performed the following year.

But his audience, he confessed, was not growing. "Somehow, the younger generation of Indians who read and speak English is not coming to see too many plays," said the 43-year-old Dattani.

"The audience is stagnating."

So Dattani's new mantra is to make theatre more sexy and international than ever before. "Our cinema, our arts, everything is catching global attention. I want to take Indian theatre to the world. Make it snazzier, more edgy and interesting."

But there are some things he will never do. "I'll never make a film on Indians living in the West. And I will never have a star actor in my play.

"I don't relate to the perspective of non-resident Indians and having a star totally overshadows the play."


 
 

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