Interview
 
Avantika Shankar Interview with Deepa Punjani
Avantika Shankar writes across various forms ranging from playwriting to art and design. She also writes haikus. For the play DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE, she has collaborated with Mahesh Dattani. Mumbai Theatre Guide quizzes her about playwriting, working with Mahesh Dattani, and what she thinks of writing for children.


 By Deepa Punjani


Deepa Punjani (DP): You have a wide array of writing interests. How would you describe your approach to playwriting?

Avantika Shankar (AS): My approach to playwriting has definitely been influenced by my work in lifestyle journalism, and especially by my work in children's theatre. It's very investigative -- I like to do a lot of research before I even begin writing the play. I like establishing a structure to follow before I begin. I used to just sit down and write whatever came into my head -- and there still are benefits to that approach, but I can't do that anymore. It's very slow-and-steady for me now.

DP: Tell us about a recent play that inspired you?

AS: The last play I read that blew my mind was MAGELLANICA by EM Lewis. It's very ambitious and her entire process just fascinated me. It is very research-driven, very tight and very, very visual.

DP: You have done a dramatic writing programme at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. How helpful has that been to you? Would you recommend the programme to aspiring playwrights?

AS: I'd say it's a good programme, and I've met some incredible people through it. But I've attended enough workshops here in India that are as good, if not better. One thing I will say is that it helps to dedicate four years to developing your craft, and I wish we had something like that here.

DP: The central theme of DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE is, well, love. Your two stories revolve around a man and a woman who date each other. How do you avoid the clichés of the setting?

AS: It's funny, cause I never sat down to writing my plays thinking, "This is about love", or "I am writing a romantic comedy." So I don't know that I made a conscious attempt to avoid clichés. I mean, for all I know, my play could be riddled with clichés. I've never really thought about it.

DP: Was it daunting to collaborate with Mahesh Dattani on this project?

AS: Mahesh is one of the kindest, most encouraging and supportive people I've had the privilege to work with. It's daunting to have one's work presented alongside his, for sure, since he is so respected in the field, but working with him was very, very fulfilling.

DP: Since you write for children as well, what do you have to say about this genre?

AS: Writing for children is definitely more visual, more movement-based, and more structured in terms of plot, but in many ways, writing for adults isn't very different. It really depends on the play. Children are great audiences and smarter than we give them credit for. And they're really, really attentive. It always surprises me what they respond to and what they notice.

*Deepa Punjani is a professional consultant and editor-at-large at Mumbai Theatre Guide.




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