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Mahesh Dattani

The Sahitya Akademi-winning playright on completing 500 shows of Dance Like A Man

Did you expect this play to be the first Ind­ian English play to achieve the feat?

When I wrote it 25 years ago, while I was studying dance, I thought it would do a few shows. Neither me nor Lilette Dubey, the director, expected the play to do so well.

What has appealed to people for so long?

The universal appeal is the man-woman conflict and that within the family. It struck a chord everywhere (it has travelled several countries).

What about the artist's dilemmas, which are integral to the play?

The play was inspired by my gurus, who lived through the ‘50s and ‘60s when Bharata­natyam was still stigmatised. For a man to be a dancer, it was double stigma.

Almost all characters are grey and seem to make mistakes. But you don't judge them.

I decided not to take sides. Why an artiste is successful or a failure are not easy answers. I didn't want to show men as evil and women as victims.

Is it based on true incidents?

The plot is complete fiction.

How did you research the background of its post-independence setting?

It was inspired from Nehruvian ideology, with its privileging of industry at the cost of traditi­onal arts. Today we are still suffering.

In terms of preserving our culture and arts?

Had we focused more on traditional arts, we would have been a unique nation.

Has it gotten any better for classical dance?

Yes. Classical dance and music have now got a stature in the world but we can go much further.

How do you look at your other plays?

My other plays have done well. The Hindi adaptation of Final Solutions had over 200 shows, and got me the Sahitya Akademi Award. 

Any special memories of the play?

Few know that I had played young Jayaraj and my guru's granddaughter had played younger Ratna for the first few shows.

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