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Sunday 19 October 2014

Critical Analysis of Mahesh Dattani’s play ' Dance like a man'

Aparna T.V
I-MA English

Critical Analysis of Mahesh Dattani’s play 'Dance like a man'

 Mahesh Dattani, an authentic contemporary voice, a director, playwright, producer, was born on 7th August, 1958 in Bangalore where he later founded his theatre group 'Playpen’ in 1984 and where many of his settings are constructed; for example, Bravely Fought the Queen is set in the „suburb of Bangalore and the Patels in Tara are from Bangalore. He is an intellectually stimulating Sahitya Academy Winner . Dattani‟s playscript casts its focus and locus entirely on the urban space, specifically rooted in the dynamics of domestic space. Environmental sustainability of the cities like Bangalore or Mumbai in his plays are the symbolic tropes and modes of economic power that can be categorized as the material element for discussing the issue of citizenship that “raise(s) questions around notions of equality and rights, issues of individual, group and community rights, active and passive citizenship and the relationship between, and relative primacy of, rights and duties” (Mallick 131).  There is proper blending of Western intellectual consciousness and

Indian theatrical techniques in his plays. He himself comments on the relevance of Indian theatre:
‘There is going to be a good positive development because as we
get into the internet age which isolates human beings, the act of
communication will be a premium. Theatre is our cultural activity
directly related to human beings’ communication with each other’
(Qtd in Chaudhuri 23).


The play Dance Like a Man, a stage play in two acts, is one of the most wonderful dramatic creations of Mahesh Dattani. It tells the story of three generations; their personal ambitions, sacrifices, struggle, compromises, internal conflicts and the way they try to cope up with the life; and mainly focuses on a dancing couple. The pathos of human predicament is explored in the subtlest way. It embodies a brilliant study of human relationships as well as human weaknesses through its characters. The play depicts the clash between issues such as marriage, career and the place of a woman in patriarchal social set up. It deals with the lives of the people who feel exhausted and frustrated on account of the hostile surroundings and unfavourable circumstances. The story is unfolded in time past and time present. The play was first performed at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bangalore on 22 September 1989 as a part of the Deccan Herald Theatre.

Dattani’s plays presents the socio-political issues, domestic and individual problems. In the play Dance like a man, dattani focuses on the conflict and clash between three generations, their conflicts and individual struggle.

Conflict between the three generations :
‘There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.’
—Judith Butler
Dattani  in this play, puts a few unlikely questions about the sexual construct that a man is or the very constituents of a man’s identity-in terms of sexuality, as the head of the family and as an artist. The play deals with the self and the significance of the other, through the frameworks of gender and gender roles-the prostitute as a dancer and an artist; the man as a dancer; the guru who sports long hair and has an effeminate walk are categories that the older generation, fed on its perception of the self cannot come to terms with. Dattani uses Traditional Dance as a medium that creates conflict in the play within the minds of the other characters. As the play goes forward and the actions take place; Dance takes the center stage and pushes the characters outside. Traditional Dance, in the play, is not only a form or a tool that enables the writer to tell his story but it creates its own psyche that guides or misguides the actors on the stage.
Dance is a very significant factor in this play that means different things to different characters. Jairaj and Ratna wants to develop their career as dancers and for them Dance is not only a form of art but also their life and soul. It is not only their passion but also a tool that will help them to gain desired success.  The stereotypes of gender roles are set against the idea of the artist in search of creativity within the restrictive structure of the world that he is forced to inhabit. Jairaj with his obsession for dance dismantles these stereotypes. This is the twist that the playwright gives to the stereotypes associated with ‘gender’ issues that view solely women at the receiving end of the oppressive power structures of patriarchal society. The play removes this notion and explores the nature of the tyranny that even men might be subject to within such structures. Jairaj and Ratna live within such a structure: the domain of the patriarch Amritlal, Jairaj’s father. 

Dance for him is the profession of a prostitute, improper for his daughter-in-law and absolutely unimaginable for his son. He forbids Ratna from visiting the old devdasi who teaches her the intricacies of bharatnatyam; he cannot tolerate the sounds of the dancing bells that ring through their practice sessions; is astounded at the long-haired guru with an effeminate walk and cannot, most of all tolerate the idea of his son –a man- becoming a professional dancer. The underlying fear is surely, that dance would make him effeminate so that the suggestion of homosexuality hovers near, though never explicitly mentioned. And hence Amritlal must oppose, tooth and nail, Jairaj’s passion for dance. This clash brings about the play of property and money in deciding and manipulating the construction of identities that would conform, but the result is tragic. He makes a pact with Ratna. He will permit her career in dance only if she helps him pull Jairaj out of his obsession and make him a ‘manly’ man. The two can then enjoy the security of his riches (Chaudhuri 67-68).

In this play, as a reader, one may find that the play poses some delicate questions among which one surely is of MALE idea.  Personally for Jairaj, Dance is a form or a means to express emotions and stands as the tool of defiance, revolt, negation of a particular way of life that was decided by his father, Amritlal. He starts dancing as a hobby or rather a fancy that his father thought would perish after a period of time but it does not happen that way. Jairaj continues his practice of traditional dancing in spite of all the opposition from his father and overtly presents himself as a rebel. He becomes more headstrong because of the support of his wife, Ratna who also was interested in traditional form of dancing. The reason behind Amritlal’s opposition suggests that his mind was not ready to accept his son as a Bharatnatyam Dancer. This is more clear in AMritlal’s view of dance.

Amritlal : “ A woman in aman’s world may be considered as progressive. But a man in a woman’s world is pathetic”

Amritlal, though being called as progressive fails to accept dance as a form of art for men. His ideas though were meant to be liberated were actually devoid of progressive ideas. His ideas of freedom and independence was that related to the nation whereas Jairaj’s ideas of progressiveness and independence is way different from that of Amritlal’s. Their conflict in ideas is seen in their argument on progress and freedom.

Jairaj : “Didn’t you have any obsessions?”
Amritlal : “ If you mean my involvement in fighting for your freedom, yes, it was an obsession.”
Jairaj : “You had yours. Now allow me to have mine.”

Asha Kuthari Chaudhuri writes, “Dance like a Man is a play that deals with one of Dattani’s pet concerns – gender – through one of his principal passions, dance.” (p. 67)

              In the society everyone wants the Male to earn that much so that the house would run properly but Amritlal knew that dance would not help Jairaj to earn enough money and that would make him unworthy in the eyes of his wife Ratna. For Amritlal, dance was good as far as it remains a hobby but it was not proper to be taken as a profession. And we should not forget that traditional dance, especially for Male was not considered a respectable profession in the olden days in India. Asha Kuthari Chaudhuri says,

“The underlying fear is obviously that dance would make him ‘womanly’ – an effeminate man – the suggestion of homosexuality hovers near, although never explicitly mentioned.” (p. 68)

In the play Maleness of Jairaj was not that much a question of Body than that of mentality. Researcher found that for Ratna Maleness might have meant one’s independent decision making power, doing the work that one liked, living on one’s own conditions, standing on one’s own feet without any support and some other that Jairaj lacked. Interestingly even Jairaj was trying to prove himself an able MALE to Ratna. When Ratna was worried about finding a mridangam player for her daughter he says,
“Will finding a musician make me a man?

            Dance, for Ratna, serves as an undying passion that drives her character throughout all the actions of the drama. Behind all her moves in the drama, Dance was the main factor. Her character has a negative shade and that makes her different than others. She involves herself in a relationship with Jairaj and that was a clear self-centered decision on her part. No love or attachment with Jairaj was there on the outset of the relationship. Her overconfidence and faith in her own talent was so much that she hesitated not even once to destroy Jairaj’s career as a dancer joining hands with her father-in-law, Amritlal. She single-mindedly follows her heart overpowered by mind; and tries to be famous using Dance as a medium. Traditional Dance stands as a thing that will help her in earning fame and money along with respect in the world of dancers.
            For Ratna Dance was a medium to gain popularity and status and for that she married Jairaj who would never stop her from dancing. Ratna’s selfish inner desire was so powerful that she cold-bloodedly plays with the emotions of Jairaj by misguiding him constantly. In the guise of a true life companion she deceives her husband and tries to curb his potential as a dancer. In order to gain personal aims she sacrifices Jairaj’s abilities. Ratna not only spoils Jairaj’s life but tries to mould her daughter Lata’s life also by making her a traditional dancer. In spite of being a Male member of the family Jairaj never tries to command his authority over Ratna and instead, she, very deliberately plays with his emotions. When Jairaj returned to his father’s house, Ratna disliked it and she says in the play ones,
“You! You are nothing but a spineless boy who couldn’t leave his father’s house for more than forty-eight hours.”
            Lata, her daughter, was used by her to fulfill her inner suppressed desires to earn fame and money nationwide and abroad. Unknowingly Lata falls in the whirlpool created by Ratna and becomes the object only. Ratna’s endeavors seem very ambitious and manipulative. She was ready to establish her daughter’s career on the right track right from the very beginning and for that she schemes, manipulates and uses all her contacts and links. It is very clear that Ratna saw her own self in her daughter Lata and therefore acted so violently to create a firm, concrete base for her. It is this quality that makes her different from others. For her Traditional Dance was important but it never became a wild passion at any point of time. The desire to take dance, as a hobby was very clear in her mind as she tells Vishwas,

“When I was a little girl, I used to stand near the door and watch mummy and daddy practice. It was magic for me. I knew then what I wanted to be.”
            She takes dance as a pure art form and does not link it to any gender. She wanted to pursue dance but her desire was not blended with any passion or force. For her, marrying Vishwas was also important and she wouldn’t sacrifice her love for the dance. Her balanced mind makes her likable and different from her parents. Actually she is away from the circle in which her parents were trapped which was too vicious to believe. She dances and continues to do so because it is a hobby for her and not a way that leads to the path of success. There is no malice, over ambition or misled want in her that keeps her interest in dance. Considering this aspects reader can conclude that Lata stands in stark contrast with other characters.

What therefore starts as a portrayal of staunch patriarchy in most of his plays opens up new domains of study, where Dattani subverts the norms to present the alternate views. Thus, what emerges is a new definition of masculinity not merely as an antonym of feminity but paving a way for men to break their “alpha roars” and do what they would perhaps like to. As Butler says, it is possible to “do” these cultural constructions of sexuality. And as for the females, they can opt for a path of their own too, breaking their silence and the performative roles that they have always played, knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly (Mallick, par.33).

Conclusion :
Dance Like a Man is a play that does not present the character as pure White or Black but it shows their different shades in all possibilities. The play poses fundamental questions and presents the actors with the best of their talents. It demands the answer whether the world is progressive in real sense or we are still in search of that utopian era where no dance form is actually attached to any gender of the dancer but considered as a pure form of Art.
Works Cited :

1.                  Mallick,Saptarshi “What a Man! Is he a man!” The Constructs of the Patriarchs and the Deviants: Re-framing Mahesh Dattani’s Where There is a Will and Dance Like a Man Impressions.vol.v issue II. July2011.2Jan2012  
2.                  Chaudhuri, Asha Kumari. Contemporary Indian Writers in English – Mahesh Dattani An Introduction. Delhi: Foundation Books, 2005.
3.                  Dattani, Mahesh. Collected Plays. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000.
4.                  Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Linda J.Nicholson.New York: Routledge,1990.


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