Noted playwright-director Mahesh Dattani’s upcoming play Dance Me to the End of Love, co-written by Avantika Shankar, features three stories of love (Shankar’s The Date, and The Dated; Datani’s The Reading), told through the relationships of three different couples: young, old and queer. Tying the storylines together is not just Dattani’s deft storytelling, but “their [the couples'] courage to open themselves to relationships”.
Why does love need courage? Dattani replies, “Getting into a relationship requires one to be comfortable with vulnerability. And it takes courage to get into a situation knowing fully well of the possibilities of getting hurt or being rejected. We tend to employ tactics to not get hurt, we try our best to show our best sides…but in a relationship such strategies don’t last all that long. So it certainly takes courage to agree to being in a relationship. In Dance Me to the End of Love, this courage is a common thread but not in some kind of lofty manner. It is funny yet thought-provoking. We look at the universality of love and relationships through the dynamics of three very different couples.”
While the concepts addressed in the play are common, we get to see a side of Dattani that isn’t often on display. Light-hearted and piercingly funny, the play’s comedic tone is pivotal in navigating through the complex emotions that come with being in a relationship. The Sahitya Akademi winner is wholly aware of how he is often perceived as a serious, cerebral playwright, a notion that is not unfounded given that much of his work has been profound and powerful. He lets out an easy laugh: “I know, I know. My personal writing is so intense that not many people know of this lighter side of me. In fact, I was actually looking to do something light-hearted when I looked up Avantika’s script, The Date.”
Dattani was introduced to The Date when Avantika submitted it during a workshop the former was conducting. He recalls how Avantika came in with a strong voice and ability to etch well-thought out characters. When he read out The Date at the workshop, the participants loved it—a memory that stayed with him. Avantika says, “When I was studying at NYU we had a writing exercise — I don't remember the prompt exactly but I think it had something to do with two people meeting for the first time in a public place. Or something like that. So, I wrote a five-minute scene about two completely mis-matched people who'd been set up on a blind date by their parents, mostly because that sort of situation comes with a lot of built-in tension and awkwardness and opportunity for humour.”
The second part (The Dated), she says, came years later when Mahesh suggested she expand the script into a full-length play. She adds, “I thought, it would be fun to compare this couple to a drastically different one — to create a different kind of tension and awkwardness and opportunity for humour.”
Dattani was keen to direct Avantika’s stories but he knew that they’d fall short in terms of time for a full-length play. It was then that he looked back at the short story he had written for the Indian Quarterly — The Reading, a story on queer romance in the age of Facebook. Avantika says, “The two storylines in my play aren't independent at all, actually — they’re separate but definitely interlinked. Mahesh’s story is quite different — though I think there is a similarity in terms of theme and tone. The task of weaving them together can't have been easy, and it fell entirely on Mahesh as the director — but he's quite brilliant that way and I think it works really well!”
As a director, one of the techniques he employed to reinforce commonality through the three stories was to keep the cast the same across the play. Using three songs to tie in the plots, the play soon took shape, under the title of troubadour Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’. “With time, our idea of love and relationships gets affected, for better or for worse. From the old-fashioned way of meeting people to swiping right to an algorithm that matches you, every age has a different springboard for processing information that goes into one’s decision to pursue a relationship or not. Yet there’s a timelessness to the emotions we’re dealing with and this comes through in the play even though the time and contexts of each story is separate,” Dattani explains.
The play has been warmly received in its previous three editions across the country, including a performance in Hyderabad where the actors had to stop the show to let the laughter and applause subside. When the play is staged at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai on Sunday, 28 July, one can expect something similar.
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2019 10:28:05 IST