Choreographer Maitreyee Pahari on adapting Bajirao Mastani into a Musical
Trained in three classical dance forms of Kathak, Manipuri and Chau, Maitreyee Pahari says Bollywood dancing is not her forte. But she wants to go where no has yet. A choreographer with decades of experience has now taken up the enormous challenge of adapting Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Bajirao Mastani, which had Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in lead roles, into a musical play. Maitreyee speaks with SheThePeople.TV on what inspired her to adapt this particular film, how she intends to bring Bhansali’s grandeur to the theatre and why there is an imminent need to popularise classical dance in our country.
You are a classical dancer, trained in Kathak, Manipuri and Chau. Tell us a bit about your journey? How did you end up directing a musical play?
It was my aim to become a choreographer, and that’s why I learned different styles of dance. From the beginning I have been trying to do something new, be it in terms of content, style or treatment. For the last few years, I have been working with Chau and Kathak and different classical dance forms. So this time I thought to try out Bollywood style of dancing. But it is not my forte, and since Birju Maharajji has worked on this Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, having choreographed dances for it, I saw it as an opportunity to do it as a musical with him, since I am closely associated with him.
You are directing a play inspired by Bajirao Mastani. Why execute a musical play around this particular story?
Whenever I saw Sanjayji’s movies I would think that it can be a very good musical because of all the extravagant sets, music, etc. The treatment of his films is that of musicals, but for the big screen. I always thought if only I could present his films on stage. This particular story is very fascinating and I just loved it.
Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani is known for its grandeur, lavish sets and exquisite costumes and of course music and dance. Do you feel the pressure to match his scale? How are you dealing with that?
Yes, there is pressure as everybody will compare the play with that movie. But stage and movies are two different mediums and I can’t match them, although I am trying my best. It will be an extravagant musical. We have roped in a set designer, Jayanth Deshmukh, who works in film and serials, for instance, to work on the sets.
Rajniesh Duggal seems to be a pretty unconventional choice for the casting of Bajirao, keeping in mind that two kathak dancers are playing the parts of Kashibai and Mastani. What made you cast him for the part?
In all my past productions, I have tried to keep the form pure, since I didn’t want to mix dance with drama. I wanted to do hard core dance and hard core theatre. In this play Rajniesh will mostly do the drama part, doing very little dancing. We interviewed different artists in Mumbai and we liked him. He is very energetic, as well as good looking and thus suits our character.
Whenever I saw Sanjayji’s movies I would think that it can be a very good musical because of all the extravagant sets, music, etc. The treatment of his films is that of musicals, but for the big screen.
What can the audience expect from this play?
I have changed the narrative a little from the film. My narrator is Kashibai, Bajirao’s wife, who is telling the story as a witness to the whole incident. Everybody knows about Bajirao and Mastani but not much is said about Kashibai. In this play Kashibai reveals how painful this romance was for her and how she simultaneously supported Mastani, allowing her to set foot in her house and fought with other members of the family for her.
You have executed many multi-cultural collaborative dance performances. Do you think that the current atmosphere of discrimination and radicalisation, is affecting our understanding and acceptance of multicultural collabs?
Yes, it is, however, I would like to add that it depends on how you present it to the audience and they will definitely accept it.
This is my dream project I am working very hard on it. A lot of talented actors are associated with it like Shawar Ali, Raja Bundela, while Shailja Nalwade and Anasua Mazumdar are the female leads.
We do not see many youngsters aspire to train in classical dance forms today? More weightage is given to western and contemporary dance forms that are heavily featured in various reality dance shows. What can be done to change that?
It is sad that people participate in reality shows from a very young age. I don’t think that it’s right. Also we have to publicise classical dance forms, otherwise, it will be for certain people only. Even classical music has a certain audience, but classical dance has a very restricted audience. We have to think of ways to make it popular because it is such a fantastic art form.
What kind of response are you expecting from the audience to your musical?
I just want people to come and see the play in large numbers. This is my dream project and I am working very hard on it. A lot of talented actors are associated with it like Shawar Ali, Raja Bundela, while Shailja Nalwade and Anasua Mazumdar are the female leads.
I think it will be a very strong and attractive production. And not just Delhi, I will be taking it to other cities and countries as well.