The different facets of dancing in "Dance Like a Man" by Mahesh Dattani

Essay, 2018

14 Pages


Identity, Gender and Profession: Dattani’s Dance Like a Man

Dr Ankur Konar

Assistant Professor in English

University of Burdwan

Dattani’s drama Dance Like a Man, first staged in 1989, dramatizes ‘dance’ with its many implicit implications – dance as profession, dance as pain, dance as suffering, dance as shelter, dance as ego-formation, dance as rhythm of life, dance as passion, dance as mission, dance as vision and finally, dance as strong maker of gender identity; in addition, it is a reflector of the cultural location of India, more precisely, culturally rich Indianness. The play can be read as a configuration of the characteristic grip of human identity that strongly interfaces the elements of identical autonomy and autonomous identity. Much like R.K. Narayan’s novel The Guide, Dattani’s play is about the incidental identity crisis where the identity of a dancer clashes with the identity of a son - the two identities of a same person. Amritlal cannot tolerate his son to be professionally a dancer because such profession is categorically restricted for the women. As far as the gender issues of our socio-political status are concerned Jairaj cannot be a dancer because there is a coincidental conflict between a manly man and a professionally dancer. The basic unwritten laws of gender identities that are prevalent in our hegemonic society prevent Jairaj to choose dance as his profession. But there is no problem for Lata or Ratna to grab dance as their profession because virtually they are female beings. Some particular roles have strictly been prescribed for men and women separately and categorically. As Viswas observes: “Me marrying a Southie my father will tolerate, but accepting a daughter-in-law who doesn’t make tea is asking too much of him.” (Dattani 391) And again the readers hear Viswas’ advice to Lata: “When my mother comes here, she’ll want to watch you make coffee. Be prepared.” (Dattani 395) The terrible stigma of tradition has to be tolerantly endured because deviation from these rules makes one to be a social transgressor. As far as Dattani’s presentation of the polarized relationship is concerned, assigned gender roles are reversed through performance. Agarwal in Mahesh Dattani’s Plays: A New Horizon in Indian Theatre rightly points out:

In the play Dance Like a Man, Dattani expresses his resentment for close fisted gender roles in the conventional social framework where the passion of an artist is quashed against the restrictions imposed on individual according to their gender roles. (24)

Amritlal posits himself to be associated witness to the glorious Indian independence, but becomes a forceful intruder in Jairaj’s professional space of liberation. In that sense, Amritlal, like Hansmukh in Dattani’s Where There’s Will, can be categorized as a figure of autocratic authority. Time in Amritlal’s mind does not go with the advancement of learning, but traditional values seem to play a permanent role for the patriarchal Amritlal because patriarchy always refers to what Menon explains as “an overarching system of male dominance operating at every level – economic, political and cultural” (154).

In a general sense of socio-political rules, bodily dance has categorically been restricted for women. But Jairaj, by rejecting his father’s order, had the strong intention for to be a dancer and consequently “had some terrific fights”. Jairaj conceptualises dance not to be a mere feminine art but a sheer artistic fact. On the other hand, Amritlal cannot understand that imposition cannot be a trick to restrict the wings of a true artist. Expectedly, Jairaj casts a vehement challenge to change gender parameter regarding profession because identity is not only a marker of one’s position, but also what Devine and Savage terms a vehement “claims for recognition” (112). The connotative word ‘home’ that stands for peace, shelter, repose, fellow-feelings becomes a frontier space of different views where the frontal affront of tradition and modernity occurs, re-occurs and recurs.

Along with the gender binary, there is also a strong undertone of caste binary. Amritlal objects to Ratna’s decision of learning the craft of dancing sensibility from a devdasi. Viswas even fears the consequence of marrying an outcaste: “My father almost died when I told him I’m marrying outside the caste.” (Dattani 389) Different ideologies and different faiths bring different approaches and make the situation much more complicated. Surprisingly, even with this ‘outcaste’ Ratna, Amritlal makes a manipulation for making Jairaj a ‘manly’ man: “Help me make him an adult. Help me to help him grow up.” (Dattani 427) But pathetically, both are virtual suckers of Jairaj - Ratna sucks Jairaj the man, Amritlal sucks Jairaj the dancer. Being placed in an existential crisis, the self of Jairaj becomes ‘divided’ through internal and external mode. Beena Agarwal precisely observes: “In his external self he is in conflict with his father and in internal self he is in conflict with Ratna. His ‘masculine self’ fails to bear the triumph of feminity as an artist as well as a person.” (101) Ratna the dancer tries to outstrip Jairaj the dancer and again Ratna the woman tries to create a manly appearance in the character of Jairaj the husband. Viswas may show courage by marrying an outcaste; such incidents may seem to be a rejection of traditional conformity of the person concerned. But the statement [“Dancers stay at home till it’s showtime” (Dattani 387)] is a clear case of internalization of the traditional concept of female enclosed space where women have been issued “more responsibilities as wives and mothers” (Smith 11).

The marriage between Viswas and Lata is a conditional marriage because Viswas will ‘let’ her dance after their marriage:

LATA. Viswas, when we are married – you will let me come here to practice, won’t you?

VISWAS. Of course, Lata. (Dattani 389)

Lata should not be restrained from dance because she has tremendous passion for dance and she herself is a product of parents who are passionate committed dancers. As a woman is not only a mere machine for reproduction, Lata advises Viswas to “go marry someone else” when the later sees the former as a virtual producer of children. At this point it is relevant to observe that Lloyd in Beyond Identity Politics cites Firestone’s thesis The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, where women, by using the realms of politics, resist the patriarchal stereotyping of women-identity as they overthrow the forcefully ideological means of reproduction as their identity politics. To continue the chain of dancing sensibility, Lata, like the women in Firestone’s thesis, projects a vehement rejection to play the only the stereotypical role of a mother. Similar to her mother, she puts dance as her first preference; other things in life are secondary. In the conditional arrangement of dance, there is always a possibility that the root of art dies, dehydrates. Lata is really dragging the carriage and baggage of her professional mother. There is always a large gap between the professional art and artistic art and Dattani’s drama vividly underscores that.

The baggage of tradition is put on the soldier of Jairaj that results in his oral violence. He deviates from acceptability and Amritlal cannot tolerate deviant-figures like guruji who even being a man has ‘long hair’ and the Chenni amma who is isolated from the mainstream society. Guruji may be “the most sought-after guru in India”, but Amritlal wants Guruji to be ‘out’ from the domestic space; Chenni amma may be a withered old lady of ‘seventy-five and dying’ but Amritlal projects her almost as a ‘devdasi’ and rigorously orders Ratna to take his ‘permission’ to visit her. Problem of permission sometimes brings the conditional attribution. Consequently, Ratna requests Amritlal not to stop her ‘from learning an art’. Amritlal’s imposed decision casts a strong spell on the marital relationship of Jairaj and Ratna. By restricting the proper manly growth, ‘insane’ Amritlal makes Jairaj unmanly man! Thus ironically in a manly world, Ratna is shining, Lata is promising, but Jairaj is pathetic and lamenting. It is interesting to note the metaphorical realization that Lata’s grandfather was a ‘freedom fighter’ of his country while Lata’s mother is a freedom fighter of her sex. Ratna is conscious of her right and might. Hence her liberating space of self-empowerment. Such empowering trope has heavily been contrasted to the demeaning space (if he has any) of Jairaj. When Ratna accuses him that “you couldn’t support your family on your own” (Dattani 411), readers are forced to think that does Jairaj have a masculine self to support a family?

Ratna, though not a ‘devoted mother very well’, craves for each and every details regarding Lata’s career: “I just want to make sure Lata won’t have to face the same difficulties.” (Dattani 411) She had her hard times in her career; now she projects great expectations in the career of her own daughter. That’s why she, for her suspension in the subsection, rejects any compromise and is sensitively conscious of the possibility of ‘sabotage’ from any other co-artists. Critics have rightly studied Ratna and Lata as “transgressive women - Ratna has married ‘outside’ her community, and Lata is preparing to do so. Neither of them has necessary female virtues of demureness, quietness or obedience, both are ambitious and outspoken” (Multani 240). Ratna even tries to bribe the reviewers in favour of a positive review for Lata’s career.

The play seems to reflect the reversals of gendered roles. It is very interesting to watch how the women materialize their dream in the so-called patriarchal world. On the other hand, Jairaj fails to grab the success of his dream in the patriarchal world. It seems that Jairaj is the other, the ‘second sex’ in this part of the world. Jairaj seems to lack masculinity because in a man’s world, he is tortured, oppressed and forced. The play also focuses that how insecurity becomes the essence in the characters’ life - Jairaj’s insecurity for choosing dance as profession, Lata’s for achieving professional success in future, Viswas’ for choosing an outcaste as a life-partner, Lata’s parents’ for Lata’s bright professional future and Amritlal’s for Jairaj’s appearance not being ‘manly’ [“Grow up, Jairaj” (Dattani 422)]. In addition, insecurity makes Jairaj alcoholic. Even in the world of the adults, the child too feels insecured and ultimately dies unnoticed because Ratna, being a woman, did not perform the assigned ‘central female functions’ of what Sen in Women and Empire considers ‘child bearing’ (4). It is a world of virtual ‘lack’; it is a play of sudden and certain clash of identities and to understand that trope the readers need the extra-textual emotion involved in the character’s statement: “I don’t want to grow up.” (Dattani 422) Jairaj’s father metaphorically sees dance as a profession of prostitution while Lata’s father sees dance as a profession for artists and Jairaj sees dance as a profession for the artiste. In fact, dance does affect the effect of profession in their lives. As there is no abject surrender to authority, conflict becomes the essence for all the members of three generations; finally, through Viswas and Lata (the members of third generation) the conflict becomes, to some extent, soothing. Society has made boundaries for the activities of men and women. When a man transgresses to the assigned space of women he becomes a moral transgressor, a violator of so called ‘normal’ social order. There is implicit hint of Jairaj’s being womanly that stands as a stark contrast to Ratna’s strange subterranean lewdness:


Excerpt out of 14 pages


The different facets of dancing in "Dance Like a Man" by Mahesh Dattani
University of Burdwan
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
467 KB
dance, like, mahesh, dattani
Quote paper
Ankur Konar (Author), 2018, The different facets of dancing in "Dance Like a Man" by Mahesh Dattani, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The different facets of dancing in "Dance Like a Man" by Mahesh Dattani

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free