Finding the Classic in the Contemporary: An interview with Mangai

In conversation with Lavanya Narayanan

               Mangai (aka. V Padma) at her home in Chennai. Pic Courtesy: The Hindu

V. Padma sits in a chair in her cozy home. Surrounding her is her in-home library: a bibliophile’s wonderland, it holds what many theatre students can only dream of. But for Padma, or Mangai – as she is known in the theatre arena – the books represent much more than a petty fascination. They are her life.

“I am an academician,” she admits proudly. And yet, it’s something she refuses to define herself as, explaining that in the creative arts, “paperwork should evolve out of the practice, whether it is about addressing gender, doing theatre, or both.”

As a professor of English literature at Chennai’s Stella Maris College as well as one of the city’s most well-known practicing theatre professionals, Mangai is no stranger to either the classroom or the stage. In fact, some say she played an integral role in building it, being one of the first to use her platform to make a statement.

“Issue-based theatre, especially that which spoke about gender issues and drew attention to them: well, that’s how I began in the 70s and 80s!” she laughs. Although she was mainly a part of the city’s women’s movement, theatre swept her away in a fury, helping her ‘find her spine,’ as renowned dancer Chandralekha would say.

Over the last few decades, Mangai has worked to create positive imagery through her work, even drawing on her background in street theatre through Chennai’s Kalai Kuzhu to formulate her works’ messaging, syntax, and technique.

“We can’t deny that theatre has been commercialized. But for many of us practitioners, the spirit of street theatre is still guiding us. It definitely still is relevant and has an impact.”

It’s an important thing to grasp on to, especially in a time when contemporary theatre, as much of current theatre is projected as, dominates the performance arena in such a large way.

“Many people simply interchange contemporary with modern. But modern is quite relative. If you interpret contemporary to be something more than the literal sense, then I think contemporary will refer to the major anxieties, crisis, and the good things of our times, all of which come to the forefront. Simply put, theatre becomes an expression of dhrishti-kavya: the interpreters are the audience,” Mangai explains.

Of course, the clarification elucidates how so much of Mangai’s works themselves operate in the contemporary realm, though they draw from great Indian myths such as the Mahabharata.

“In all honesty, looking at contemporary theatre as Western draws largely from colonial times when in reality, only the ‘frills’ – the wings, the proscenium stage, the paraphernalia – have come to us from those sources. Most regions in India have their own theatre histories and conscious theatre professionals draw on native dialogue to impact an audience.”

The space, especially in Tamil Nadu, is one that Mangai ventures into as a recent recipient of the India Foundation of the Arts’ Arts Research Grant. Focusing her research on the analysis of early 20th-century Tamil theatre and its role as a window into the socio-political and cultural landscape of the time, she says the grant gives her the opportunity to delve deep into the history of Tamil contemporary theatre. It’s a first, even for her.

“I was a Tamil medium student growing up. So although I have been an English professor by profession, Tamil holds a very special place in my heart. That’s been perfectly multiplied by my choice of partner as well, because Arasu happened to be a Tamil scholar and professor,” she reminisces.

As one of Chennai’s few bilingual theatre professionals, the grant allows Mangai to marry her lingual skills with her passion for the proscenium stage to explore long-forgotten vernacular histories.

“The works of Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar and Sankaradas Swamigal, for instance, are some of the works I’ll be looking into—uncovering overlap, transliterating, and hopefully projecting it on the national stage.”

Fascinated by the works of others, from her contemporaries to theatre-makers of the past, Mangai’s IFA grant is only an extension of the love for theatre that has driven her for the last few decades. And yet, ask her about her own judgment of others’ work, and she has this to say.

“I think, somehow, people who are doing academic research in the performing arts see themselves as people who can stand in judgment of others who are making art right now. They often bring in their theories and check whether those match the performance. In reality, it should be the other way around: performance studies and research should evolve out of practice.”

How does she envision that growth? Her answer is simple: dialogue.

“Especially in a country with a diverse variety of theatre, a dialogue regarding vernacular theatre and the age-old forms and traditions that have fosterd our nation is essential. It’s the way of the future.”


DSM Open Day Comes to Hyderabad in March 2018

Get a chance to experience world-class training and know more about the PG Diploma in Acting and Theatre making at Drama School Mumbai through the Open Day Series. This month, we hit the city of pearls and biryani – Hyderabad. This free acting workshop will be facilitated Puja Sarup.

About the Instructor: Puja Sarup

MA (Theatre Arts), University of Mumbai | Helikos International School for Theatre Creation, Italy

Puja Sarup is a core team member and faculty of Improv and Devising at Drama School Mumbai. She is also the co-founder of theatre group Patchwork Ensemble, which has given us plays like The Gentlemen’s Club aka TAPE, Fly by Night and ILA. Most recently she has been working on Sandbox Collective’s Ramayana.

Date: 4th March

Venue: Lamakaan, Off Road No. 1, Banjara Hills, Opposite GVK One, Hyderabad, Telangana 500034

Time: 03.30pm to 06.30pm

Open and free for everyone!

To Register :

Send an email to

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336


Atul Pethe with Kalyanee Mulay and Parna Pethe : Conversations@theDSM

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

For those familiar with the intersections of art and activism, Atul Pethe is a name to be lauded. For the past 35 years, he has been highlighting the stories from the fringes through his experimental plays, writings and documentaries. He combined forces with the Pune Nagar Mahapalika Kamgar Union to stage Satyashodhak, a play about the life of Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule. His Ringan natak has raised many issues and questions following the assassination of Dr Narendra Dabholkar.

His daughter Parna Pethe works with experimental theatre as well as films. She is one of the founders of Natak Company and has worked extensively with Aasakta Kalamanch, two of the biggest names in experimental Marathi theatre. Her first short film won a National award and in 2014, she was awarded a Marathi Filmfare award for her debut in Photocopy. Most recently, she made waves as the plucky reporter in Faster Fene.

Kalyanee Mulay describes herself as a ‘a performer, traveller and explorer’. This NSD graduate has recently come to critical acclaim through her work in Marathi films like Ringan and Nude: Chitraa. Actor Kalyanee Mulay, after graduating from the National School of Drama in Delhi, has performed in plays and short films like Sunrise and Vilag, as well as Ribbon and Ringan. Concurrently, she has performed at the National School of Drama and the Colombo Theatre Festival.

Date: 10th March 2018

Time:  7.30 PM

Venue: 5th Floor, Purandare Hall, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Girgaon, Charni Road (East) Mumbai – 400004

Entry: Free

Conversations@theDSM are a part of the Rekha Sabnis Memorial Series.

Maati - Drama School Mumbai Student Production 2018

“To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.”

― Federico García Lorca

In a world where a her value is determined by the capacity for first bearing and then rearing children, what’s a barren woman to do? Where does an incessant obsession with fertility, sterility, life and death lead? How far can you bend before you snap?

Every year, DSM students perform a full length production, working with some of the best theatre directors in India and a professional production team.  This year annual DSM Student production takes a hard look at all these questions through Maati. Maati is a Hindi adaptation of Yerma, the noted Spanish play written by Federico García Lorca. Some speculate the challenges to Christian morality thrown up by the play in 1935 were the most direct cause of Lorca’s assassination during the Spanish Civil War.

The contemporary adaptation brings the talent and training of the students under the direction of Mahesh Dattani.  He is a Sahitya Akademi Award winning director, playwright and actor. With over 3 decades of experience, Dattani has given the world many notable productions – Final Solutions, Dance Like a Man, Night Queen, Tara. His film, Dance Like a Man won the National Panorama Best Picture in English award  in 1998. He has also been awarded for Best Artistic Contribution at the Cairo Film Festival.

Theatregoers will find it quite a treat to see how Mahesh Dattani deals with the symbolism, futurism and surreal influences of Lorca’s work.

Maati opens on the 3rd of March, 2018 at Drama School Mumbai. The students go on a national tour with the production, performing 10 shows across 4 cities. So catch them now as they take the stage for the first time as professionals:


3rd March (Sat) – Drama School Mumbai

4th March (Sun) – Drama School Mumbai

9th March (Fri) – Drama School Mumbai

13th March (Tue) – Rangashankara, Bangalore

15th March (Thu) – Ninasam Theatre Institute, Heggodu, Karnataka

23rd March (Fri) – Sudarshan Rangmanch, Pune

31st March (Sat) – Drama School Mumbai

6th April (Fri) – G5A, Mumbai

18th April (Wed) – Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai

4th May (Fri) – Damu Kenkre Festival, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Mumbai


Cast: Batch of 2017-2018 of the Drama School Mumbai

Director: Mahesh Dattani

Producer: Maneesh Verma

Script Adaptation: Neha Sharma

Assistant Director: Kaustav Sinha

Music Director: Amod Bhat

Scenography and Lights: Niranjan Jadhao

Costume Design: Sonal Kharade

Stage Manager: Surabhi Shrivastava

Song Writer: Abhinav Grover

Choreography: Tapas Boro

For details and to book tickets, call 91 9619336336 or write in to

Applications for Post Graduate Diploma in Acting and Theatre-making for 2018-2019 open on 1st March 2018!

“… you have to be your own champion, be your own superstar, blaze your own path and say YES to every opportunity…”

– Sutton Foster (award-winning Broadway Actor)

Theatre is a tough nut to crack. But actors are born on stage. The Drama School Mumbai has been the pioneer in training individuals in acting, theatre-making and entrepreneurship for the past 5 years.

Applications for the PG Diploma in Acting & Theatre-making open on the 1st of March 2018

This is a one year full-time intensive course. It is an opportunity to study the fundamentals of theatre under highly-trained and internationally-acclaimed faculty of actors, theatre-makers, and producers.

  • Make theatre every week
  • Learn from the best practices from across the globe
  • Perform and tour a new production with a professional team
  • Intern with the best theatre companies and organisations

Application timeline:

1st March – 15th April: Online Application & Counselling 

May: Auditions

June: Admission Announcements

July: PG Diploma in Acting & Theatre-making 2018-19 begins!


Graduate Degree in any discipline

Prior experience with theatre (performance, education, workshops, back-stage) preferred

Application fee:

1500 INR refundable once candidate participates in the auditions

Read more about the course here

Your Entry in to the World of Theatre awaits. Apply to the Drama School Mumbai NOW!

Email :

Or call us on +919619336336

"The more awards an artist wins, the less insecure he becomes" - An interview with Ramu Ramanathan

Photo credit: Junoon Mumbai Local

Ramu Ramanathan is not a new name in the Indian theatre circuit. In fact, it is a very popular one. He has, to his credentials, some of the most prolific awards in the industry. Recently, Ramu was awarded with the NDTV-Serendipity Arts’ ‘Arts Spectrum’ award in the Performing Arts category. We spoke to him on what it means to be an effective playwright and how he manages to be a journalist and editor by the day and a writer and director by the night. Read on to know his thoughts…

This interview has been sketched by Roshan Kokane, communications executive at the Drama School Mumbai with inputs from Ragini Singh Khushwaha, programme head at the DSM.

Roshan: Ramu, you have written over 30 plays and directed over 20. You are also an award-winning author, a full-time editor and a faculty member at the DSM. How do you manage to play so many roles and yet bag so many esteem awards? What’s your secret?

Ramu: Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet said, “The more awards an artist wins, the less insecure he becomes and that affects the edges of his work.”  In a country like ours where there is widespread reluctance to acknowledge works of art, every award is important.

Ro: A lot of your work is centred around Mumbai city. Why so?

Ra: I have a love-hate relationship with theatre and with the city of Mumbai. There are days when I have a compulsive love-obsession and there are days when I detest the city from the bottom of my heart. As a journalist, I love the process of education and edification. I think artists have the ability to throw light on the topics that are in dark. For example, I admire Vijay Tendulkar’s penchant to tell stories of volatility of the social middle class drama. The manner in which Tendulkar like Bhau Padhye, Jagdamba Dixit and Shyam Manohar Joshi ripped apart the fabric of sophistication or pretence. They barged into the living rooms of middle class lives and shredded the veneer to pieces.

Ro: How did you get interested in writing and theatre?

Ra: I am blessed to have been brought up in a city with so much theatre and art. I grew up in the LIC colony in Santacruz, opposite the BEST bus depot. There were some exceptional plays of stalwarts like Dada Kondke, Nilu Phule and Ram Nagarkar staged there. It was a cross section of groups and people staging plays for the middle class and working class of Mumbai. Interestingly, it was hosted by the LIC labour union cultural wing. Theatre in Mumbai wasn’t the domain of the rich and powerful and high and mighty, but of all strata of the society. It belonged to everyone. Mumbai also has a history of theatre from the time of industrial workers. 

Picture sourced from Twitter.

Ro: In what way?

Ra: During 1938-39, the Kamgaar Rangbhoomi theatre fest was established. These were informal improvised spaces of performances for workers to watch. One-act plays and Loknatya were really popular then. I have grown up watching some of the performances myself. Well, I am not that old but yes, the tradition of performance has been an old one. I have also attended labour union theatre competitions in Mumbai. Today, Mumbai has around 1000 to 1500 shows in a month and they are mainly performed in four languages namely Marathi, Gujarati, English and Hindi with a sprinkling of Konkani and Malvani. This huge repository of work to watch, inspired me to write. 

Ro: What are your future plans?

Ra: Currently, I am collaborating with theatre artistes to highlight the pitfalls of Aadhaar through poetry. Through this project, I aim to create awareness regarding the privacy and welfare aspects of Aadhaar and the other side to it. Different theatre artists will come together and read sketches that would be later uploaded on I wrote the first Aadhaar poem (Ashwathama) to be read out at the Prakriti Poetry Fest in January. Three readings were in Chennai colleges. The response from the students and educators was good. They said, this poem should be on our syllabus. But we know that can never happen under the present regime. That’s how I thought about writing a few more.

Ro: Are you writing anything presently?

Ra: I am keen to write a play about the World War I in 1914 and its impact on Mumbai, the Mathura rape case and the independent autonomous women’s movement of the early eighties and Dr Ambedkar’s Mahad Satyagraha.

Ro: What advice would you give to young playwrights?

Ra: Some of my most favourite experiences in theatre and writing have been with young people. I think India is blessed with talented writers and theatre-makers. Every artist needs to understand that it takes a lot of time, energy, practice and patience to create works of art. One shouldn’t lose hope or motivation with failures or rejections. Every great writer (and by that, I mean writers I admire) have been endured decades of failure or depression. Another ability one must hone if they aim to be a storyteller is to be consistently brave enough to try new things and surprise oneself. For this, one has to read the old masters like Odon Von Horvath and George Buchner plus contemporary artistes like Ngugi and Fosse. Simply because you have to study the competition. I see a lot of potential in the younger generation today. I believe that they have the ability to break through cultural and social stereotypes and create a better future for freedom of expression.

Make sure that your content is potent with politics, humour and music.

Ro: In your view what is good playwriting?

Ra: In the last few years, there have been a proliferation of workshops related to playwriting. There is no fixed template for these workshops. In one session, I have taken the liberty to use Fyodor Dostoevsky’s text because there’s a lot one can learn about character sketches and plot lines from the old Russian master. In Dostoevsky’s book The Idiot there is a character of General Ivolgin. This character says, there is perhaps a lie in every sentence. Lebedyev is insufferable, he says, and had the gall to declare that in 1812, he lost his left leg and buried it in a Moscow cemetery. Now the astonishing thing is, Dostoevsky stole the inscription from his own mother’s tomb. Impossible, say workshop participants when they hear this. So how far should a true artist go? Dostoevsky is a true novelist. He will steal, his characters will lie. But ultimately, the work is brutally honest. And that is the point. No?

Ro: How is the writing scene in the Indian theatre circuit? What changes do you envision in the coming years?

Ra: Young people are uploading on YouTube, there are theatre monologues on podcasts. It ensures million hits in some instances. With the Aadhaar poems, the sketches are available all across the country. Plus, we have the liberty to archive contemporary plays. What DSM, Junoon and others are doing in terms of research and archiving of talks, interviews and lec-dems is amazing. This is the future of the Indian theatre circuit. The present movement and the journey.

Ramu was born in Kolkata but finished his education in Mumbai. He is currently the editor at PrintWeek India.

Ramu’s suggestions and playlists:

Favorite plays:

  1. Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett
  2. Happy Days by Samuel Beckett
  3. Mahanirvan by Satish Alekar
  4. Begum Barve by Satish Alekar
  5. Trutiya Ratna by Jyotiba Phule
  6. Urubhangam by Bhasa

Favourite Theatre-makers:

  1. Puja Sarup – Puja Sarup is a director, actor and teacher of theatre. She is the founder of group Patchwork Ensemble. She tours nationally and internationally with her group regularly. 
  2. Yuki Ellias – Yuki is an actor based out of Mumbai. She staged an award winning play last year called Elephant in the Room
  3. Deepan Sivaraman – Deepan is a director, scenographer and an academic. He owns Oxygen Theatre Company and is based out of Thrissur. 
  4. Kabir Kala Manch – a cultural group who perform in the villages and bastis of Maharashtra

Alternate careers:

  1. Left back for Fulham Club at Craven Cottage
  2. Fish connoisseur
  3. Be a rock on Nandi Hills in Bengaluru which is 3.5 billion years old


  1. NDTV-Serendipity Arts’ “Arts Spectrum” award in the Performing Arts category – 2017
  2. All India Best Play Award awarded by The Hindu for Shanti, Shanti, It’s A War– 1993
  3. Regional Award Winner of the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition for Collaborators – 2003
  4. Bagged the META Best Play and Best Playwright Award for Cotton 56, Polyester 84– 2006

Thespo & Drama School Mumbai: Natyakala Workshop in Baroda

Thespo & The Drama School Mumbai have joined hands to conduct a series of workshops called ‘Natyakala’. Spanning across various cities over 3 months, Natyakala plans to engage the youth across the country, spreading the love for theatre and nurturing the passion they already hold within.

Natyakala is a foundation level acting workshop. The workshop will focus on vocals. It will cover breathing techniques, voice modulation and projection. It is an exciting workshop that will help young actors to train their vocal cords and improve the voice quality through various exercises.

About the Instructor

Asif Ali Beg

He is an actor and trainer. Asif has lent his vocal talent as a dubbing artiste for the voice of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and several other Disney characters. Besides this he also dubbed for the voice of Sid in ‘Ice Age 3/4/5’, ‘Happy Feet’, ‘The Smurf Movie’, ‘Madagascar’, ‘Cars’, Olaf in ‘Frozen’ and several other productions.

Workshop Takeaways:

  • Training to discover the craft of acting
  • Developing confidence, self expression, and communication skills
  • Defining goals and how to focus on them
  • Learning more about yourself, your environment and others around you
  • Thinking outside the box, solving problems creatively, and most importantly, learning to take action


Dates: 7th April 2018

Time: 2.00 pm to 6:00 pm

Venue: Bright Day School CBSE, Makarpura Jakat Naka, near juna harni, airodram road, Vadodara, Gujarat 390012

Fees: ₹500/-

To Apply

Send an email to

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336


Advanced Workshop Programme : Commedia dell'Arte with Marco Ziello

About the Instructor

Marco Ziello

University of Bologna l Teatro Azione, School of Drama

Marco is a theatre actor, director and teacher. He graduated in Performing Arts with Commedia dell’Arte as his specialization from the University of Bologna. He further trained in Commedia dell’Arte at Teatro Azione, School of Drama. Since 2011, Marco has been collaborating with the Porvoo Theatre in Finland as a teacher, director and an actor. He has also been a part of several other international collaborations in Italy, Finland, Spain and Australia.

About Commedia dell’Arte
Commedia dell’Arte is a form of humorous theatre where the manner of performance is more important than the subject of the play. It involves use of masks common fictional characters like servants, old men and lovers that are a part of every performance. It also lays impetus on improvised performances based on different scenarios.

Workshop Takeaways:

  • Understanding the fundamentals of Commedia dell’arte like character building, dialogues, sketching costumes, music and tricks
  • Mask work, techniques and gestures to induce humour to performance
  • Developing an understanding of the common fictional characters through body work
  • Improvisation in spoken text and performance
  • Developing comic timing and understanding the comic body

Dates: 22nd and 23rd February 2018 | Time: 8:00 am to 2:00 pm

Venue: Bhalerao Auditorium, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Kelewadi, Girgaon, Charni Road East, Mumbai

Fees: 5000/-

To Apply

Send an email to

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336


Performance@theDSM : Museum of Species in Danger

Knowing today’s reality, it will not be wrong to say that safety and freedom of women is in danger. This play is a compilation of monologues of women characters from mythology, modern India from literary works as well. Most of the monologues are written and improvised by the actors themselves. The play attempts to sketch lives of women in India in great detail as to how moving in open spaces is vulnerable to their physical, mental and emotional health. The play has been inspired by infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case.

About the group:

Being Association was established in 2017 by a group of National School of Drama graduates. Set up to work towards purposeful theatre that stimulates the audience, the group has seen recent success with productions like  — Is Kambhaqt Sathay Ka Kya KareYuddhoparant and an adaptation of Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug. Their aim is to engage the society with deep rooted conflicted issues ranging from gender to class through the medium of meaningful drama.

Directed by Rasika Agashe

Visuals : Tarun Sharma & Sumedh

Music: Faiz Khan

Script : Sumedh

Associate Director : Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub


Date: 17th February 2018

Time: 7 pm

Duration: 90 minutes

Send an email to

Call/WhatsApp us: +91 9619336336

You can also book your tickets on BookMyShow.

Conversation@theDSM : Mahesh Dattani with Shanta Gokhale

Mahesh Dattani is a Sahitya Akademi Award winning director working in the Indian theatre industry for over thirty years. Besides directing, Mahesh has also been an actor and playwright. He has a degree in History, Political Science and Economics with post graduation in Marketing and Advertising Marketing. Mahesh has written and directed numerous plays and has also dabbled into making films. His film, Dance Like a Man has won the award for the Best Picture in English awarded by the National Panorama in 1998.

Mahesh will be interviewed by renowned writer and theatre-critic Shanta Gokhale.

At the DSM, Mahesh will talk about his journey, his theatre company, the industry around theatre and using theatre and drama for education in recent times.

Conversations@theDSM are a part of the DSM’s Rekha Sabnis Memorial Series.

Date and time: 10th February 2018, 5 PM

Venue: 5th Floor, Purandare Hall, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Girgaon, Charni Road (East)  Mumbai – 400 004

Entry: Free