Communal Issues in Mahesh Dattani’s Plays

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Communal Issues in Mahesh Dattani’s Plays

By – Dr. Om Nath Trivedi Ashvamegh Issue-XXIV January 2017

About the Author:

Dr. Om Nath Trivedi is an assistant professor of English and belongs to Kanpur, UP, India.


India has a rich cultural heritage. It is the land of great personalities and gurus who have shown ways as to how to maintain peace, prosperity and brotherhood in the world. Service to mankind was the motto of their preaching. There was a message of universal brotherhood in their life style and they had a high regard for every religion, faith and community. In fact, it is their way of giving respect to everyone that India became famous across the world.

But things were different when India became free from the British rule and different communities residing on this land had a dream to make this country a beautiful place to live in. A proof of this can be witnessed in the movements, which were started and continued till we achieved independence. All the committees put in their best, whether they were Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis or another communities. There was high enthusiasm all around because their dream was about to be translated into reality. It was their strong unity that withstood all the intrigues of the Britishers who worked day in and day out to create difference among the different communities, especially Hindus and Muslims. A strong message was given to the British empire that India was a united nation and was emerging further more united as a nation.

Eventually, India gained independence and people were jubilant. However, the moment of jubilation was associated with a horrible and ghastly experience of bloodshed that history has rarely witnessed. People, who had been living together for centuries, became blood thirsty and bitter enemies of one another in the name of religion. The barbaric cruelty against the fellow human beings aroused communal sentiments, the venom of which is still not completely washed out. Many people were rendered homeless, children became orphans, people lost their loved ones and there appeared a horrible number of raped and widowed women: “Millions of people have to flee leaving everything behind, Muslims from India and Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan. Two great rivers of humanity are flowing in opposite direction along the pitifully inadequate roads and railways. Jamming and clashing, colliding head on leaving their dead and dying littering the landscape” (Malgonkar, A Bend in the Ganges  355).

We have a thorough presentation and analysis of communal issues in the two plays of Mahesh Dattani i.e., The Swami and Winston and The Final Solution. Here in these two plays the narrow mindedness and backwardness of the people living in traditional societies are depicted in a highly thought-provoking manner and in fact prove to be eye openers for the educated and liberal minded people.

Dattani deals with this theme in The Swami and Winston where people cheat in the name of religion and philosophy. Religious fundamentalism in any form is harmful to the society, for it strikes at the root of humanity. Lady Montefiore, a rich woman from the ‘West’ comes to India with her dog, Winston in search of her brother who is living in an Ashram in Karnataka. She is murdered and the suspicion falls on her brother and finally the mystery of her murder is solved. Pseudo-scholars and pseudo-religious minded persons are exposed in the end.

We find a very thrilling story of gripping communalism in Mahesh Dattani’s play Final Solutions, a stage play in three acts. The time of action is late 1940s, the period when India got freedom and partition of the country on the basis of religion into India and Pakistan. The shocking events and miseries of the migrants were endless. People were under utter trauma. The sad and dismal memories of their past haunted them. Instead of fraternity, communal hatred and bias lurked in their minds. India’s secularism was at stake and it could not wash the hatred spread among different communities of the country. There were anguish and insecurity all around. India was a newly born state on the crossroad, confronting many strange issues – looking after the newly acquired land, rehabilitation of the refugees, decline in political and human values, association of Mahatma Gandhi, rise of regionalism and the linguistic problems – all threatening and challenging the national unity and integrity.

Dattani’s plays deal with real scenarios that are tough to turn away from from the scene. They are couched in Indian urban speak. They shy away from myth and make-believe to tackle reality head-on, no matter what the impact of the collision. They have worked on stage when directed sensitively, or read over BBC, or — somewhat less powerfully — when rendered as cinema. They prove indisputably that Dattani is in sync with millions of urbanites, to whom English is an Indian language. We are his audience, his characters, and his source of sustained feedback.

Final Solutions is a truly representative play of Mahesh Dattani’s observations. It deals with a very burning and sensitive issue of communal riot. Dattani has shown in this play how the seed of riot is sowed and some vested groups reap its fruit. He also discusses the role of politicians, police and public at the time of communal riots. The common people who live together for years, at the moment of riot, suddenly cease to recognize each other and become enemy on the ground of religion. The identity of the people as an Indian national is at stake. Asha kuthari Chaudhari comments:

The gruesome rioting and communal/ religious disharmony that took seed in 1947 has continued to throw up countless such incidents in independent secular India. Such incidents and communal evidence in India between Hindus and Muslims, were underscored emphatically by the brutal bloodshed in Gujrat in 2002. These were some of the issues that Dattani had actually dramatized in the form of Final Solutions earlier, dealing with the recurring rhetoric of hatred, aggression, monetary and political exploitation of communal riots, in chanivinism and patriarchal mindset of the fundamentalists, in the context of India of the 1940’s interspersed with the contemporary India. In confronting and negotiating responses to the post – Babri Masjid demolition and the post Godhra Hindu Muslim communal violence in Gujrat, through varied discursive frames of history and theatre, Dattani subsequently explored issues of identity, memory, suffering and loss within the larger political context through the various productions of this play Final Solutions. (Contemporary Indian writers in English Mahesh Dattani   77-78)

Mahesh Dattani, as a true observer of society, writes only what he sees and not what should be. All his plays are filled with matter and manner which he observes. Each and every play of Dattani raises some prominent issues concerning the various maladies contaminating the healthy issues of society and in doing so he is never seen didactic in his attitude. The well- known stage director Alyque Padamsee is very sensible when he comments on the play – “The demons of communal hatred are not out on the street…they are lurking inside ourselves”  (“A Note on the Play”   161). His indication is clear that some vested groups wish that communal riot should occur and for this, hatred is spread among society. People, without knowing the reality, come out on the road. They leave their mind and use heart because the group always raises some sensational and emotional matter related to religion that demands faith and nothing else. The loss of mind brings the  people in the category of mob that works but never uses mind. They are frightened and emotionally blackmailed that if they do not come out of the issue, their religion is in danger. As Padamsee writes: “The mob …is symbolic of our own hatred and paranoia. Each member of the mob is an individual yet they meld into one seething whole as soon as politicians play on their fear and anxieties” (“Note on the Play,”   161).

It shows the mentality that the eyes are somewhat different but the mob, in ignorance, does the work differently. Dattani has a dream of unity of both the communities – the Hindu and the Muslim. His primary purpose in this play is to maintain a workable unity and co-operation between these two leading communities of India. He seems to be strictly against any type of ‘ism’ and wants to see each and every man of the country as an Indian first and then anything else. In this respect, he seems to be very much influenced and affected by the feelings of unity and brotherhood among the people of the country.

Apart from the communal issues, the playwrights also explores  the issues of identity, memory, suffering and loss and resulting ‘other’ – bashing either / or terms of reference with the longer political context through the various productions of this play. Through this beautiful realistic presentation of the two major groups of India, Dattani has tried to provide a workable solution to fill up the gap between the Hindus and the Muslims. His primary concern as a writer of drama is to expose the various maladies of society and whenever necessary to give some proper solution through the medium of literature. He seems to be very certain is protecting his vision of secularism in which both the communities live together in happiness.

To sum, we can say that Dattani has very successfully sought to dismantle this assumption and to recover and reclaim the life of the people on the margins. This play is a critique of violence. It is not overtly didactic but does make a forceful appeal for love and broader understanding, transcending division has rightly proved that the demons of communal hatred may not be out of the street, but they may be lurking inside us.



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Jaipur. Book Enclave, 2008.

2-“Dattani’s  Theatrical  Art and the Tradition of Indian Theatre,” Prasad,

Amarnath.  The  Dramatic  World  of  Mahesh  Dattan i- A  Critical

Exploration.  New Delhi:  Sarup  Book  Publishers  Pvt.  Ltd.,  2009.

3- Boulton, Marjorie.  The Anatomy of Drama. New Delhi: Kalyani  Publisher,


4- Datta, Vandana. The Plays of  Mahesh Dattani.  New Delhi: 2005  Prestige

Books, 2005.

5- Haldar, Santwana.  Mahesh  Dattani’s   Final Solutions-   A Critical Study.

New Delhi: Asia Book Club, 2008.

6- British  and  Indian  English  Literature-  A Critical Study.  New Delhi:

Sarup & Sons, 2007.

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