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Come, pick your layer


Mahesh Dattani's ``Dance Like A Man" is perfect for the harried urban audience of today.


It's been to London, and to New York. After 225 shows, it's being called India's longest running play in English. When it participated in the MetroPlus Theatre Festival, it was easy to see why.

Light, frothy and colourful, Mahesh Dattani's ``Dance Like a Man" is the perfect play for the urban audience of today, harried after a day of deadlines and traffic, and looking towards theatre more as a tool to unwind, than a catalyst to make them think.

Sure, the play has layers. But you can choose just how deep you want to look. Because on the surface, there are just HaHa's. Dig a little deeper and there's the pathos of everyday life — family conflict and the trauma of finding yourself, both themes that are easy to empathise with. A little deeper, and there are the `Issues,' though even with these you can take your pick: the fate of the temple dancers, or what defines manhood.

The attitudes toward classical dance, changing over generations. Or the balance of power in a marriage.

Because the story's simple enough.

Prisoner of the past

It begins with Lata, a young classical dancer played by Suchitra Pillai and her beau, Viswas, played by Vijay Crisna, waiting to meet her parents, at their house. The stage, crammed with old-fashioned furniture, efficiently conveys the playwright's vision of a house that is captive to the past, just like its owners, Lata's parents: Ratna, played by Lilette Dubey, and Jeyraj, played by Joy Sengupta.

The story proceeds by intertwining the past and present, through flashbacks where Jeyraj becomes his father, by solemnly donning a waistcoat and glasses in dramatic spot lit sequences. Vijay Crisna and Suchitra Pillai also play young Jeyraj and Ratna.

The young Ratna wants to be a famous dancer. So does her husband.

However, his father, a fussy, well-respected social reformer shudders every time his son jingle-jangles past mid-practice, all pouting lips and swaying hips.

Because, in his opinion, ``A man's happiness lies... in being a man."

And, in the present, Ratna has moved from half-heartedly pushing her marginally talented husband to dance, to shoving her daughter into the limelight, to make up for the fame she never had. "I heard. Rave reviews... And why shouldn't she get reviews like this? I deserved it... my hard work has paid off, hasn't it?"

Lilette Dubey, as the older Ratna, steals the show, with her loud flamboyant characterisation of a self-obsessed and fascinating woman, although she does tend to overdo the gesticulating, forgetting perhaps that even the best of dancers stop posing once they are offstage.

Suchitra Pillai creates more of an impression as young Ratna than breezy Lata, all smouldering eyes and disdainful shrugs.

Mixture of accents

The entire cast, however, flounders in a veritable mixture of accents all through, in its attempt to re-create Mahesh Dattani's South Indian milieu.

Lilette and Suchitra over-emphasise what they seem to be convinced is a Tamilian accent, while young Vijay, who bounds about the stage like an excited squirrel does a truly atrocious (and admittedly hilarious) version of a Tamil butler. (He also, by the way, does a very convincing job playing young Jeyraj.) But strangely enough, these little slip-ups, only added to the charm of the production, which had the theatre aisles crammed, and the audience chuckling heartily all through the evening.

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