Manjula Padmanabhan: Author Interview

How many women playwrights have you heard of? I bet there aren’t many. When we heard of Blood and Laughter by Manjula Padmanabhan we at thenotoriousreader knew that we had to get to know more about her and her plays.

Manjula Padmanabhan is a writer, artist, cartoonist, and playwright. Harvest, her fifth play, won the 1997 Onassis Prize for Theatre in Greece. She is the author of several critically acclaimed books, including Getting There, Hot Death, Cold Soup, and Three Virgins and Other Stories. Her most recent novel, The Island of Lost Girls, was published by Hachette India in 2016. Her cartoon strip SukiYaki currently appears weekly in The Hindu BusinessLine, Chennai. She has illustrated twenty-four books for children.

What inspires you to pick up your pen and write?

I write on a laptop (so, no pens)! I am inspired by anything and everything.

Can you please give us some more information about your plays?

The introduction to both books – BLOOD AND LAUGHTER, LAUGHTER AND BLOOD – answers most of your questions. So I will quote from them. There are six full-length plays and 20 short performance pieces.

Can you please tell us more about the main characters of the book and what inspired them? Why did you choose to write plays about these particular situations?

I first began to think of putting my unpublished plays together in one volume perhaps eight years ago. By this time, I’d been receiving plaintive requests from Indian theatre students desperate for research material. I understand, of course, that this has less to do with quality than simple supply-and-demand: there aren’t many women playwrights anywhere in the world. Fewer still are those whose work is available in print. These students had done their research on-line. They had noticed references to readings of scripts by me that, unlike Harvest, Lights Out and Hidden Fires, had NOT appeared in print. They wrote to me, asking about these mysterious plays.

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Why did you choose this form of writing?

One reason, perhaps, that I can write plays is that I am a comic strip cartoonist. Whenever I am asked how I gained experience for writing dialogue, I point to my cartoon character SUKI and the strips in which she has appeared: DoubleTalk (The Sunday Observer, Bombay, 1982-86), Suki (The Pioneer, New Delhi, 1992-97) and SukiYaki (Business Line, Chennai, 2016-current). Writing cartoons may also explain why, despite all that is dark and broody in my plays, there’s also an element of humour.

Will you be trying your hand at any other genre?

I have written and published novels (ESCAPE and THE ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS) and short stories, illustrated and written children’s books, and my comic strip SUKI has been appearing on and off since the early 80s. It is currently in print once a week in BUSINESS LINE (Chennai).

When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?

GETTING THERE, a travel memoir has just come out in print. It’s a new edition of my 1999 travel memoir, with a new ending. The next three books will be a compendium of all my SUKI strips from before 2016; a collection of all my SF short stories; and the third novel in the ESCAPE series. All by Hachette India.

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If not a writer, what would have been the career of your choice?

I’m an artist and author. They take up the full span of what I have ever wanted to do!

Can you tell us about your favorite author/ authors/ playwrights?

I put this list together for the Readers Digest just last week!
Nothing’s changed since then: ALICE IN WONDERLAND & THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, Lewis Carroll. THE MAGUS, John Fowles. GORMENGHAST trilogy, Mervyn Peake. THE SEA OF FERTILITY, quartet, Yukio Mishima. GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH, Douglas R. Hofstadter. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET, quartet, Lawrence Durrell. THE WATCHMEN, Alan Moore, David Gibbons (graphic novel) THE NIGHT CIRCUS, Erin Morgenstern. MAUS, A SURVIVOR’S TALE, Art Spiegelman (graphic novel) CUCKOLD, Kiran Nagarkar.

What do you like to do when you are not busy writing?

I am also an artist. So I draw and paint.

Are there any words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?

“Follow Your Heart’s Desire”.

You can read more about the book of plays by clicking here.

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