Stage for picking holes
Gayatri Rajwade

Collected Plays: Volume Two—Screen, Stage and Radio Plays
by Mahesh Dattani
Penguin. Pages 572. Rs 450.

Collected Plays: Volume Two—Screen, Stage and Radio PlaysTHE 10 plays by India’s best-known English playwright, Mahesh Dattani, make you ponder, shaking you out of your reverie and making you doubt your own staunchly held, urban middle class beliefs. Is this not what Dattani excels at? Picking holes in the social milieu and unravelling hypocrisy, intolerance, emotions and concerns, he attempts to get to the core of disquieting aspects of a society that would rather not face up to its collective contradictions of a skewed value system.

And that is not all, each piece of writing is for a divergent platform of communication be it the screen, stage or radio. The `E9lan with which each medium is traversed is pure magic.

The book makes for compelling and often poignant reading. For a man who won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 1998 for his play on communalism, ‘Final Solutions’, each play is a conscious awakening written lucidly and simply.

Of the motley pick, three plays—one for the stage and two for the radio—focus on Dattani’s Marple-esque lady-detective Uma Rao. Jeremy Mortimer, Executive Producer, BBC Radio Drama, in the introduction to the book, describes her as "fiendishly intelligent, fearless and motivation which is entirely honourable". The ease with which Uam Rao solves seemingly simple "mysteries" actually reveals a veneer over more intricate issues dealing with gender, sexuality and religion. Even the titles, in hindsight of course, reveal so much about the play themselves—‘Seven Steps Around the Fire’, ‘The Swami and Winston’ and ‘Uma and the Fairy Queen’.

‘Thirty Days in September’, performed to critical acclaim, both in India and abroad, deals with the delicate issue of child abuse, while ‘Clearing the Rubble’, which is a telling commentary on beliefs and the need to reach out, is set around the relief effort in Gujarat after the 2001 earthquake. ‘The Tale of a Mother Feeding a Child’ is a powerful monologue, centring on a foreigner who comes to Gujarat during the drought to meet the family of a man she once had a brief affair with.

Three screenplays on divergent themes, ‘Mango Souffle’, winner of the Best Motion Picture Award at the Barcelona Film Festival, ‘Dance Like a Man’, winner of the Best Picture in English awarded by the National Panorama and ‘Ek Alag Mausam’, a film supported by Actionaid India deal with homosexuality, life’s tangled choices and outcomes and HIV/AIDS.

Even the touching ‘Morning Raga’, released less than a year ago and premiered at the Cairo Film Festival, is a poignant tale of relationships and friendship combined with music as the base.

In fact, innovations with music and natural sounds intersperse the relationship between characters, using this dramatic tool to its maximum effect and are scattered liberally through the plays. One cannot help but marvel at the effortlessness in writing technique and the unfettered command over theatre, drama, cinema and radio.

For all this and much more, as each "story" is so easily identifiable, the book is a must-read.