Shilpa Shukla: Mahesh Dattani is a treasured mentor

February 17, 2024
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Mahesh Dattani brought contemporary Indian realities to theatre and approached modern issues and relationships with a fresh perspective.

Right from his first play ‘Where There’s a Will’ in 1986, playwright and director Mahesh Dattani brought contemporary Indian realities to theatre and approached modern issues and relationships with a fresh perspective. Zee Theatre’s ‘Big Fat City’ is no exception and here Mahesh dwells upon the harried life in Mumbai and on people who are stuck in the cycle of unmet needs and desires.

Actor Shilpa Shukla is thrilled that she got an opportunity to work with Dattani and says, “When he called me for ‘Big Fat City’, I couldn’t believe it and it has been such a learning curve in my life. I’m now able to love the craft a lot more. There is no monotony around it. Words can’t describe how much I learned from him, his observations on life, and his whole being. As a teacher he is fabulous. He has mentored so many students and he is really like a treasure for us. There are very few people like him.”

About the social commentary in ‘Big Fat City,’ she says, “The play is about the aspirations that may revolve around a flat, a lover or a big role. It is about how some people look at the world from an external perspective. They think in terms of glamour and image when actually, there could be so much muck in the city of their dreams. In that sense, it is possibly the first black comedy from India that exposes the dark side of aspiration.”

She also praises how Dattani has amalgamated ‘rasas’ like ‘Hasya’ (humour) and ‘Vibhatsa’ (macabre) in the play where there is laughter as well as a sense of horror around a dead body.

She adds, “I also love the way he has woven complex grassroots realities within the narrative. Mahesh sir has also brilliantly used technology. The way he has used text messages, etc. is only now being shown in OTT shows.”

About her own character Lolly, Shilpa says, “She is an ageing actor who is now replaceable but her entire lifestyle is so elaborate that she doesn’t know how to lead a simple life anymore. To hold onto the image that she has, she gets embroiled in a drug-deal. But how far can you go without taking any accountability? It’s not a very likeable character, I would say. But I think a person like her could exist in a city like Mumbai.”

She is glad that teleplays touch upon subjects that are usually not explored in depth in cinema. As she says, “Teleplays in a way rewind literature, and there is so much more depth there. I also enjoyed the experience because we rehearsed the play the way we would in the theatre and tried to shoot it in a one-take. Not everyone comes to the theatre and so we have to take theatre to their homes via teleplays.”

Written and directed by Mahesh Dattani, ‘Big Fat City’ also stars Bhavna Pani, Mansi Multani, Nissar Khan, Sid Makkar, Anuj Guruwara and Deepal Doshi.

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