Sufferings and Suppressions: Gender Discrimination in Mahesh Dattani’s Dance like a man

Yashvi Manglik & Vidhi Jalan, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Dayalbagh, Agra, India

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It is often assumed that only women are victims of gender discrimination but it is not true. Men also suffer as they are judged on the yardstick of masculinity. This paper explores the notion of gender discrimination faced by both men and women with reference to the play Dance like a man by Mahesh Dattani.

Keywords: gender discrimination, social construct, sufferings, suppression


Discrimination in a general sense is a practice of treating an individual or a specific group differently on the basis of some social and cultural dimensions. The Oxford Dictionary defines discrimination as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”  ( Gender based discrimination has been the age old practice in India and also across the world. Gender discrimination has been in the roots of our society since the dawn of civilization. It is a practice which shows that in spite of the technological advancement mankind is still in the shackles of discrimination which is ultimately leading to the fragmentation of the society. As the tree of human civilization spawned which was once a delight giving source as it brought order in the life of humankind it unfortunately also bore the evil seeds of discrimination on the basis of caste, colour and sex etc.

This paper explores and analyses the notion of gender discrimination against man as well as woman in Indian society with reference to the play Dance like a Man (1989) written by the Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani (1958). Both are destined to face the darkness of discrimination which often results in the suppression of their desires and ultimately the progress in life. Art in true sense delineates the life in varied forms and shades. The artist portrays the dark side of life too so as to make people aware and also to bring transformation in the thoughts of the people.

Gender Discrimination: a Black Cover over Indian Culture

Gender discrimination is a form of discrimination which is profound in every culture and especially in the Indian culture. Sex is a ‘biological construct’ while gender is a ‘social construct’ which means that the discrimination between man and woman on the basis of gender is the result of the social dogmas set in from the ancient times. The voice of discrimination and protest against the rights of a woman has become strong in the present time but unfortunately the man has been overlooked in this aspect and is always considered as ‘a citizen of a privilege class’. In India, it is assumed that only women have been suppressed of their desires, dominated by the wills of others and are the victims of the gender discrimination but it is not true as men also have to face the discrimination. Men like women are also the victim of society as he is always judged through the lens of masculinity and chivalric qualities.

Indian man has been judged on the parameters of masculinity down the ages. His desires and wishes are ignored if it ‘sounds feminine’ or are related to the fields where women have upper hand. The man has to be strong, stout, dominating and hard in nature while the woman has to be docile, obedient, silent and submissive. It is a social framework designed by the very people of the society and it has become the basis of gender discrimination which acts like a black cover on the psyche of Indian people.

Dance like a Man: Unfolding Gender Discrimination

Mahesh Dattani in Dance like a Man has ingeniously portrayed Indian culture and social issues of contemporary India. The theme of the play is intertwined with relationship, career, caste and society. The plot revolves around Jairaj and Ratha and their daughter Lata and her fiancé Viswas. A parallel thread traces the past of Jairaj, Ratna and Amritlal Parekh, Jairaj’s father through the technique of flashback. Jairaj and Ratna are exposed to the ire of Amritlal Parekh who fails to understand their devotion towards dance and especially of Jairaj. The dramatist has shown the typical Indian views towards dance through Amritlal Parekh who considers that dance is made only for females. He epitomizes that a man with self respect will never pursue a dance as a profession, particularly a man. Dattani has delineated the discrimination based on gender faced by Indian man and woman and its consequences.

In Dance like a Man Dattani has highlighted that patriarchy is an inseparable element of Indian society. Males hold primary power and predominate in the domain of the family. They tend to hold the reins of authority over women, children and other members of the family. Gender discrimination has been present in society since the onset of civilization and till today humanity is in its shackles. Multani says “gender is constituted by some acts which when repeated come to form and give shape to a “coherent” gender identity.” (2009, 36).

Dattani has projected an Indian family in which Amritlal Parekh possessed unquestionable authority over Jairaj and Ratha. Parekh being the head of the family he “assumed” himself to be responsible for taking important decision of their life. He is a freedom fighter and reformist but “conservative and prudish”. He was helping India to get free from the white men; ironically he chained and controlled his own son’s wishes. He curtails the freedom of his son who wanted to become a bharatnatyam dancer- “Do you know where a man’s happiness lies? In being a Man…”(425, Act II). Amritlal imposes his wish on Jairaj and wants him not to pursue dance as his career because it is not a ‘male oriented’ profession.

In Indian society, man is supposed to be the bread earner and he is expected to be in such a profession with which “self esteem” is associated. In other words, man did not possess freedom to pursue art form like Bharatnatyam. Jairaj’s father equates the art of dance with prostitution.

“The craft of a prostitution to show off her wares- what business a man have learning such a craft? No use. Similar with dance”. (406, Act I)

Dattani has portrayed that Amritlal Parekh felt ashamed of Jairaj because being a ‘real man’ he was involved in profession of lower stature. He considered Jairaj a cause for the shame for the family as he judged Jairaj with the lens of masculinity in which he didn’t fit. He says

“Well, most boys are interested in cricket, my son is interested in dance, I thought. I didn’t realize this interest of yours would turn into an…obsession”. ‘(415, Act I)

Dattani introduces comic element but prejudice and biases are always present under the surface. When Amritlal Parekh associates dance with effeminacy, it evokes humour yet underlined with satire. He doubts “guru ji” who teaches dance to be an effeminate which disgusts Jairaj -“I have never seen a normal man with long hair. I have also noticed the way he walks.” (417, Act I).

Amritlal represents all those men who believe that a man with long hair is not a man in true sense. He almost lost his temper when Ratna told him of Jairaj’s desire of growing his hair long to “enhance his abhinaya”. He says “Tell him if he grows his hair even an inch longer, I’ll shave his head and throw him on the road” (418, Act I).

Dattani has delineated the tale of woe of both man and woman as the axe of Amritlal’s authority is not only confined till Jairaj but falls on Ratna too. The poor lady is ‘informed’ and ‘ordered’ by her father in law that she must stop visiting aged “devdasi” for learning dance as visiting an ‘old withered’ prostitute would bring ill repute to his family. He sternly orders her saying “You will not. That is all. I need not give you any reason for it.” (421, Act I).

Dattani has highlighted the irony that on one hand Amritlal Parekh equates dance with prostitution and abstains Jairaj from dancing and on the other hand he allows Ratna to dance. This alludes that men and women are not given equal status in Indian society. In India, skill of dance is considered as inferior and thus it is believed to be suitable for woman. Amritlal very cleverly makes Ratna feel that Jairaj can never be as good as she at dancing and claims grace and beauty to be womanly trait. He says

“A woman in the man’s world may be considered as being progressive. But a man in a woman’s world is pathetic, yet being progressive is…sick”. (427, Act II)

The gender conflict has also been highlighted through the budding relationship of Lata and Viswas. Lata had to seek Viswass permission whether he will allow dance after marriage or not. She says, “Viswas, when we are married you will let me come here to practice, won’t you”? (389, Act I).

In Indian society woman is expected to be an epitome of household chores. Multani says, “Women in Indian homes, working in office is not real woman, but working in kitchen is. For men, vice versa” (2009, 32). Dattani has highlighted this in this play as Viswas says to Lata “Accepting a daughter in law who does not make tea is asking too much of him” (391, Act I).

Dattani towards the end projects very aching reality; the consequences and repercussions of futile gender conflict which engulfed Jairaj. Poor Jairaj has been reduced to hollow, lonely “spineless boy” as his stubborn father society made him realize that he is worthless and good for nothing, not even for dance. He blames Ratna for taking away his dignity, self esteem, honour and confidence which once again alludes towards gender discrimination as a husband without a single thought blames his wife for his downfall.

“You took it away bit by bit. You took it away when you made me dance my weakest items. You took it away when you arranged the lightening so that I danced in your shadow”. (443, Act II)


Thus the play Dance like a Man brings to the fore the aching reality that both man and woman are victimized by gender discrimination. The Indian society judges an individual’s capability, their desires and success on the yardstick of gender. The man with the desire to dance is considered inferior and woman has no rights and say in the family. Dattani has shown that not only woman but man too suffers due to gender discrimination as Jairaj was not allowed to pursue the career of his own choice. Gender discrimination is the social evil which has engulfed the Indian society and it can be eradicated only when the mindset of people will change and understand that gender discrimination is a ‘mere social construct’. Instead of judging a person on gender basis one must judge on his/her capability and then the society will advance in true sense. Each individual has been sent on the earth with a purpose and deserves equal respect. To end gender discrimination we need to treat everyone as a human being and celebrate their presence in the world. As in the words of Maya Angelou

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”

Works cited

Dattani, Mahesh. Collected Plays. Noida: Anubha Printers, 2000.

Joshipura, Pranav. A Critical Study of Mahesh Dattani Plays. New Delhi: Pinnacle Technology, 2009.

Yashvi Manglik & Vidhi Jalan are Postgraduate Students of theDepartment of English Studies, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Dayalbagh, Agra, India.

The Golden Line: Volume 1, Number 2, 2015

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