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Dattani, Mahesh (b. 1958)  
page: 1  2  

On a Muggy Night in Mumbai (1998)--subsequently turned into the film Mango Soufflé (2002), which Dattani directed from his own screenplay--places homosexuality at its center. It is not inaccurate to suggest that all of Dattani's previous work leads up to this play: from concerns with gender, to a hint of homosexuality, to its partial presence, to a complete engagement with it. Of the eight characters in this play, five are gay men and one is a lesbian.

The plot hinges on Kamlesh's trying to hide from his sister Kiran the fact that he was in a relationship with the man she is about to marry. The play samples a wide range of male homosexual presence in Indian society. Kamlesh is a well-adjusted, straight-acting gay man. His ex-boyfriend Sharad is intelligent and campy. Ed is in denial and is about to enter into a heterosexual marriage after having an affair with his fiancée's brother, Kamlesh. Bunny is a celebrity and in the closet.

Whether or not Night Queen (1999), published in Yaraana--an anthology of Indian gay writing--was written before or after Muggy Night, it covers almost the same area as the previous play. But Night Queen is a one-act play and has only two characters: Raghu and Ash, two young men who pick each other up in a park and come to Raghu's home for sex. Ash is to be engaged to Raghu's sister Gayatri the following day and is not aware that Raghu has already recognized him as Gayatri's soon-to-be fiancé.

In another play written for BBC, Seven Steps around the Fire (1999), Dattani focuses on the plight of the hijra (or ) community by fashioning a plot that involves the killing of a hijra because she was having a relationship with a government minister's son. Representing the hijra community on stage further adds to the spectrum of queer characters created by Dattani and underlines his abiding interest in non-normative, marginalized sexualities.

Mahesh Dattani has also written plays on a variety of other subjects. Incest and child abuse mark Thirty Days in September (2001). The Hindu-Muslim divide is examined in Final Solutions (1993), Clearing the Rubble (2002), and The Swami and Winston (2000). AIDS may be seen as the central subject of Ek Alag Mausam (A Different Season, 2005) and maternal love is the theme of The Tale of a Mother Feeding Her Child (2000).

In Morning Raga (2004), a film he directed based on his story and screenplay, Dattani uses the contrast of traditional and contemporary music to delineate character and contrast generations.

In 1998 Dattani became the first playwright in English to be awarded India's most prestigious literary prize, the Sahitya Akademi Award. Bestowed on him for a collection of his plays, Final Solutions and Other Plays, the citation described his work as "a brilliant contribution to Indian drama in English."

Dattani's plays are often shaped into their final stage-ready form by means of the workshop performances to which they are subjected at Playpen.

Dattani regularly organizes workshops around India and also teaches during the summers at Portland State University, Oregon. Among his workshops and classes are "Yoga for the Performer," "Indian Cinema," and "Meditation, Movement, and Music for Creativity and Growth."

Dattani has repeatedly used what may be called the split-stage technique, which involves dividing the stage into two halves or two levels, one beside or above the other. Then he gives lines to characters in the two spaces in such a way that there is constant intercutting between the two actions. This not only makes for a tighter narrative but also a richer visual effect.

The technique can also be interpreted as Dattani's way of signaling that in India, as elsewhere in the world, multiple realities co-exist, resolutely and cheek-by-jowl, but that often only one reality--the and patriarchal--is visible. Dattani's plays are a sustained effort at highlighting the otherwise invisible by situating it where it belongs--alongside the visible normative reality.

Niladri R. Chatterjee

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Ayyar, Raj. "Mahesh Dattani: India's Gay Cinema Comes of Age." Gay Today 8.167 (2001):

Chaudhury, Asha Kuthari. Mahesh Dattani. New Delhi: Foundation Books, 2005.

Dattani, Mahesh. Mahesh Dattani: Collected Plays. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000.

_____. Mahesh Dattani: Collected Plays: Volume Two. New Delhi: Penguin, 2005.

De, Aditi. "Out of the Closet, On the Screen." The Hindu (March 9, 2003):

Dhawan, R.K., and Tanu Pant, eds. The Plays of Mahesh Dattani. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2005.

Mee, Erin B. "Mahesh Dattani: Invisible Issues." PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 19.1 (January 1997): 19-26.

Merchant, Hoshang. Yaraana: Gay Writing from India. New Delhi: Penguin. 1999.

Talwar, Urmil, and Bandana Chakraborty, eds. Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions: Festschrift for Prof. Santosh Gupta. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.


    Citation Information
    Author: Chatterjee, Niladri R.  
    Entry Title: Dattani, Mahesh  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated May 31, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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