& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, October 06, 2014

Mahesh and I

Guest Post by Jasmine Sawant

(First published in Desi News October 2014)

It was shortly after SAWITRI was born, that I met Mahesh Dattani through Where There’s A Will. As I was reading the play, I laughed so much that I nearly fell off the couch! And then, when I was done, I sat silent for a long, long while. This man had effortlessly described the father-son relationship that I had witnessed in my community; the Gujarati community. Maybe it existed in other communities as well, but there it was, out in the open. Someone had taken the time to write about the patriarchal stranglehold. Intelligently, dramatically, incisively and poignantly, someone who had perhaps, suffered as did his ‘Ajit’ in the play, had penned down the pain.  And then there was the treatment of the women. The way the character of Hasmukh Mehta treated his wife and his mistress was funny, wacky, but deep down there was a systemic manipulation and marginalization of the women of his household. It was a cleverly constructed play that resonated strongly with us on many levels.

SAWITRI Theatre Group wanted to produce the play right away. We even got Mahesh’s permission; I still have that email. But our theatre group was new. We had just started. We thought it would be good to collaborate with an established like-minded theatre company. We saw it as mutually beneficial. We knew we were bringing passion, talent, a different perspective and a new market segment to the table. But the start up is usually considered an upstart, an interloper! We needed to prove ourselves to be taken seriously, and it was the usual chicken or egg syndrome. Ten years later, when we finally produced Where There’s A Will in 2012, it was the realization of a long standing dream!

Whether one is in Mumbai or in Mississauga, there’s always a ‘mainstream’ to deal with. Its composition may differ, but there’s this ‘push out’ from ‘mainstream’. Feeling strongly about marginalization, producing Mahesh Dattani’s Seven Steps Around the Fire was next. If we felt so pushed out, then how much more difficult it would the for the LGBT community here. In India, the ‘hijras’ suffer social discrimination, social deprivation, poverty and mental torture. Their birth is seen as a curse of the Gods. Being transgendered should not mean they cease to be human without potential or human sensibility. The legal acceptance of the LGBT community in Canada has not automatically ensured their social acceptance, and the South Asian community in the Greater Toronto Area is no exception. We hope that this project has led to a better understanding, or a gradual acceptance of this community here.

Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like A Man, is like the grand finale to the theme of marginalization. It deals with the marginalization of the male dancer in South Asian society. Once again, it’s a family setting, the home is the ‘battleground’ in this inter-generational conflict of gender discrimination and patriarchal manipulation. It is a brilliant study of human relationships and weaknesses; the age-old battle between father and son, between tradition and youthful rebellion. In the world of classical Indian dance, especially bharatanatyam, there is a curious reversal of gender discrimination. It is the male dancer that is being sidelined. There is a wide-spread perception that dance is a frivolous indulgence and not a job for a man, that it is effeminate and suitable only for the female body. Dance is also perceived as a form of entertainment and not an art form, and the biggest roadblock to Indian male dancers is the silent issue of sexuality. A dancing man is automatically presumed to be homosexual! As the number of second and third generation South Asians increase, examining this South Asian mind-set and finding acceptable solutions becomes increasingly important.

Dance Like A Man is a richly layered play and it boasts an exciting cast. Lata Pada, Artistic Director of Sampradaya Dance Creations plays the role of the older ‘Ratna’. This marks Lata’s stage acting debut. Anand Rajaram plays the role of the older Jairaj. Today, Anand is indisputably one of the finest South Asian actors we have here. Emerging actors, Sid Sawant, as Viswas and Navneet Kaur, as Lata complete the cast. SAWITRI Theatre is proud to be presenting the Canadian premiere of one of Mahesh’s most successful and celebrated plays. And to have Mahesh here during four weeks of rehearsal and production is going to enhance the creative vibrancy of the piece.

Interestingly, the other two Dattani plays were also Canadian premieres. Why Mahesh Dattani? India has many excellent plays and some phenomenal playwrights, but none who write in English. They write in their mother tongue, and some flavours are definitely lost when you translate. I also attribute this affinity towards his works to how closely I probably identify with him in regards to the two worlds that exist within us. These worlds invariably collide, but eventually compromise and work out a co-existence. Both of us are an urban phenomenon. We are raised in one language at home, Gujarati in my case, and his too. But we spend our entire life learning, thinking, feeling expressing and dreaming in English. There is often a feeling that we are neither here nor there, and yet at the same time we straddle two worlds and create a new identity.

Additional information:

Dance Like A Man – Three performances. On Thursday, October 16, Friday, October 17 and Saturday October 18 - 8 pm, at Meadowvale Theatre, Mississauga.

Directorial Vision – Mahesh Dattani; Co-Director – Christina Collins; Set & Lighting Design - Joe Pagnan; Music – Deepak Sant; Stage Manager – Heather Bellingham

CAST: Lata Pada, Anand Rajaram, Sid Sawant, Navneet Kaur

Meadowvale Theatre, 6315 Montevideo Road, Mississauga, ON, L5N 4G7

Tickets: $50, $30 & $20. Go to http://sawitridlam.bpt.me  

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