A play to remember

Apr 02, 2013, 03:22 IST | Soma Das

Iconic play, Dance Like A Man, written by Mahesh Dattani and directed by Lillete Dubey, will stage its 450th show at Tata Theatre this Saturday. On the occasion, Dubey shares anecdotes about the longest running original Indian play in English

Lillete Dubey cited exhaustion and excitement as the emotions running through her mind as her play, Dance Like A Man, completes 450 shows this weekend. The widely acclaimed play, which has been running for 18 years, has toured cities across India and in the UK, US, Europe, Indonesia and South Africa.

Produced under Dubey’s banner, The Primetime Theatre Co. and directed by Dubey herself, the play is based on Mahesh Dattani’s script. It tells the story of Jairaj and Ratna, two Bharatanatyam dancers past their prime, contrasted with stories of their daughter, Lata, who is on the brink of establishing herself as a brilliant dancer.

Lillete Dubey plays Ratna and Vijay Crishna essays the role of Jairaj in Dance Like A Man

Stage the original
Dubey admits that she started The Primetime Theatre Co. in the 1990s with an intention of choosing and staging original Indian plays. “Till then, most of the plays featured works by Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht, which anyway had a lot of diverse interpretations abroad. But we wanted to find an original Indian voice and pit them against others,” she says, adding that they never expected the play to be so successful.

“We have staged so many plays over the years and yet, everywhere we went people would ask us to re-stage Dance Like A Man. It has become a part of living theatre (legend); it has developed a life of its own and a mysterious balance of music, dance and drama, which has helped it survive over so many years. In fact, over the years we have been staging it every six monthsor so.”

Suchitra Pillai and Joy Sengupta, who play the role of a young couple in the play

Universe and India
Back in 1996, one of the criteria Dubey had in mind while selecting the play was that it had to have a universal connect. Despite apprehensions, she says, “We realised we had succeeded when we found people across the world laughing at the same parts; they got the humour which was amazing. In some countries, the play was their first exposure to Indian theatre.” The play also made for a pioneering attempt to stage original Indian writing, which is now a common feature in today’s theatre circuit. “In those days there was hardly anything available in Indian English. We were actually taking a risk by staging an untested play which was not an out-and-out comedy and moving out of the comfort zone,” she rues.

Dubey remarks that over the years the play has remained virtually the same, with minor changes at times in the cast of the play. “We (the actors) joke that the play will continue in perpetuity as our children will take over our roles someday,” jokes Dubey.  Not ready to sit on her laurels, Dubey next hopes that she can take the show to places yet to be visited including China, Russia and Japan. 

Down Memory Lane
One of the most memorable stagings of the play, admits Dubey, was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a decade ago. Their performance (at a chapel) was preceded by a Russian ballet act which required the actors to strip at the end of the performance. “It was early in the morning; all the actors were thoroughly distracted and the hilarious image of the nude performers clearing the confetti they had strewn on the stage will stay with me forever,” she laughs.

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