Print Edition - 2015-03-22  |  Free the Words

His lessons

  • Mahesh Dattani’s three-day workshop in Kathmandu had a lot to teach theatre artists
- Deepesh Paudel
His lessons

Mar 21, 2015-

During the last week of February, I had an opportunity to attend Mahesh Dattani’s three-day workshop about dramatic writing and story building at the Theatre Village in Lazimpat. Dattani, a prominent Indian playwright, was in Kathmandu to witness and take part in the Nepali rendition of his play 30 Days in September, directed by Anup Baral. The play witnessed a massive turnout and appreciation from almost all members in the audience. Most people lauded Baral’s vision and presentation onstage. Many others, including me, were equally mesmerised by Dattani’s ability to tackle a socially sensitive issue with an intensifying and captivating mode of storytelling. After watching 30 Days in September, I found his work to be extremely disturbing and intriguing with many twists in the plot.

Storytelling and listening  

Like all stories, Dattani’s workshop started with an introduction. Participants were first asked to introduce themselves not by their names, but by their stories. These stories and concepts, generated by the participants, were the foundation for the entire workshop. Dattani started by stressing the importance of storytelling for an artist or an author. According to him, artists can instill genuine conviction in their work only if their need to tell a story is significant. Such stories can be temporal and interest-driven in nature, but to develop a relatively consistent sense of story is one of the biggest challenges for a storyteller. While establishing a sense of story, artists also need to identify with their characters, their core nature, and their sense of time and space. Since these quintessential factors stand as the crux of dramatic storytelling, playwrights and filmmakers always need to use them as revelations to firmly hold their audience.  

Another factor that plays a vital role in developing a sense of story is self-realisation or self-awareness. Artists with a higher level of self-awareness can easily relate their inner voice with their craft. This, ultimately, reflects originality in one’s work and gives a higher level of satisfaction to the artist. Dattani also pointed out the importance of story-listening and judged it as one of the prerequisites for good storytelling. As an artist, one needs to be prudent while listening in order to capture details and visualise settings. We as listeners often tend to skip the singular process of pure listening and quickly begin analysis and interpretation. This leads to inadequate contemplation and clarity, which dilutes the essence of storytelling. Therefore, all artists and storytellers need to suspend their interpretation while receiving a story firsthand.

Multiple perspectives

The next highlight of the workshop was Dattani’s take on multiple perspectives. The art of literary writing and storytelling should never be one dimensional. Although the audience might have a single takeaway message from the story, it should possess variations in different forms. The contemporary protagonist-antagonist form of dramatic stories is still applicable at large. However, exploration through newer perspectives promises growth in the artist and adds dynamism while developing the story.

For instance, there can be multiple perspectives on Binay, a pedophile in 30 Days in September. His dual personality, as a molester and a provider/aide, shows two sides of a single story. In the play, social sensitivity associated with his pedophilic nature outweighs his other personality. Hence, the audiences picture him as the prime antagonist of the play. However, if the audiences are induced to step out of their comfort zones and moral boundaries, the same character might be able to generate sympathetic responses.

The audiences might even realise and accept the reasons behind him being

a pedophile.

Another archetype example of multiple perspectives can be seen in Akira Kurasawa’s ‘Rashomon’. The legendary filmmaker has meticulously derived characters, situations and their tales in such a way that the audience is compelled to use the concept of multiple perspectives, either consciously or subconsciously, to analyse the entire film. Nevertheless, creators, while thinking about incorporating this concept, also need to think about the primary motivator of the story and avoid unnecessary lengthening the story.

Theatrical tips

In addition to his story-building lessons, Dattani also gave valuable insights into the functioning of the theatre and theatre artists. His approaches to convert small and routine incidents into stories were connected to theatrical presentations. Since theatre is also considered to be a reflection of life, taking note of smaller and more mundane events, people and reactions can help theatre artists inculcate the natural intricacies of life, making their art more relevant to audiences. The events and characters developed in a play must look organic, rather than mere additional elements.

Furthermore, Dattani stressed the use of dialogue to be more action oriented, and not situation oriented. Dialogues need to express an artist’s intent or activity, which somehow establishes communication with the audience. Similarly, as a playwright, one needs to be closely acquainted with the mechanics and making of theatrical art. Understanding the process of theatre can help writers lay a concrete foundation for artists and directors to visualise and execute the stories.

Paudel is associated with Sarwanam Theatre as a theatre artist and director

Published: 22-03-2015 08:06

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