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     Volume 6 Issue 41 | October 26, 2007 |

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Book Review

Dance like a man

Sabrina F Ahmad

Nothing fires up a good debate than the talk of gender issues. Bring up the topic in mixed company anywhere, and you'll instantly have your chauvinists, feminists, critics and a heated argument on whether or not a woman has a tough time living in a man's world. Interestingly enough, you won't hear of too many sympathisers for a man living in a woman's world, and yes, if Mahesh Dattani is to be believed, there is such a thing.

Dance Like a Man, first produced in 1989, explores this complex situation.

The play opens with Lata, a Bharatnatyam debutante, bringing her fiancé Viswas to meet her parents Jairaj Parekh and his wife Ratna, both dancers of repute. Sitting in the large museum-like house that belonged to Lata's grandfather Viswas is concerned about how his background as a mithaiwallah's son would go down with his prospective in-laws. It so turns out that he needn't have worried, because they are too preoccupied with finding a substitute mridangam player to accompany their daughter her performance at a high-profile dance festival. What seems at first to be artistic paranoia, soon turns out to be cracks in the wallpaper covering the maelstrom that Jairaj and Ratna's relationship is. As the conflict reaches a screaming crescendo, issues between Lata and Viswas regarding the former's career after marriage, also emerge.

At the heart of their discord is Jairaj's deceased father, Amritlal, and his rigid beliefs regarding what a man should be like, and how he tried to enlist Ratna's help in trying to dissuade Jairaj in abandoning his career as a dancer.

In Dance like a Man, the author explores two concepts; the general inhibitions to a man pursuing dance as a career, choosing to specialise in a form traditionally performed by women, and how professional rivalry between partners can be damaging to a relationship, and how this can affect the family as a whole. There is a scene where Ratna and Jairaj begin fighting right in front of a bewildered Viswas, and later, before the final storm before the older characters breaks out, Lata and Viswas also get swept up in an argument about her ambitions for a career in dance. Whereas in his time, Jairaj had to deal with criticism for being a man in woman's world, Lata receives thinly veiled censure from her fiancé about the respectability of performing certain dances in public. A flashback shows a similar, and more heated dialogue between Ratna and Amritlal.

The entire play takes place in two acts, and is so designed that the same actors are interchangeable as Lata and Viswas/younger Jairaj and younger Ratna, and the older Jairaj sometimes takes up the role of Amritlal. The dialogues are gritty, witty and realistic, and the portrayal of the issues 'intensely tender and tenderly intense', to borrow a phrase from Dattani.

Dance like a Man was rendered into film in 2003, directed by Pamela Rooks, starring Shobana, Arif Zakaria, Anoushka Shankar, Samir Soni and Mohan Agashe.

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