Patriarchy and Gender Preference in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara – Smita Ray

Patriarchy and Gender Preference in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara

– N. Anisha

The essay in brief discusses the patriarchal practices in a traditional Hindu Society in the light of eminent playwright Mahesh Dattani’s play, Tara. The author uses definitions of patriarchy and gender from theorists ranging from Gerda Lerner to Walby and Adrienne Rich. He uses western Feminist ideas to establish the relationship between patriarchy and gender which in the latter section of the essay, she opines to be one of the major reasons behind women’s subordination in a family. According to the theorist Walby “patriarchy operates to achieve and maintain the gender inequalities essential for the subordination of women.” The patriarchal dominance in the plays of Dattani, not only establish the superiority of the male hegemonic power but also shows how women’s identity is defined and structured by men.

Even in the 21st century, when in India girls have repeatedly proved themselves competent for every profession, the deep rooted gender discrimination continues among even the affluent and educated people living a so called modern life in the metro cities. Dattani deems the gender issues more prominent than the class discrimination, though both issues are prominent in today’s society.

Tara was Dattani’s third play staged in Bangalore on 23 October, 1990 based on the theme of prejudices against a girl child and the preference of a male child over the ‘other’ gender not only by the men but mostly by the women, in this case Tara’s mother Bharati. Dattani brings out through this play Tara’s subordination by the patriarchal society where male, being the bread-earner and head of the family, decides upon the boundaries and freedom for the family members.

Dattani portrays how Bharati, Tara’s mother enjoyed a taste of patriarchal dominance when she plotted with her father to separate the twins, thereby giving two legs to the boy and one to the girl which led to the untimely death of the latter. The essay also supports the argument by quoting Asha Kothari who opines that Dattani’s Tara deals with the issue of female infanticide rampant not only in the less educated rural sections of the society but also in the urban Gujrati families where Patel’s hegemonic patriarchy insisted ‘proper’ division in the gender roles for the boys and girls. In such families it has often been noticed that the punitive measure meted out to the aberrant female is deemed justified by none other than but one who has herself been the victim of domestic violence and emotional privation. Though the role expectations have undergone significant changes in the urban Indian Hindu family, but yet an employed lady balancing both her public and private space quite successfully is either despised by the society or criticised as a ‘virangana’, since the power practised by her is unusual and unconventional to her gender. If power or virata is exercised by a male member of the family, then he is neither praised nor despised for it as this is conventional according to his gender role.

The stereotype of masculinity enjoins the male to be brave, daring and dexterous, to be honourable and honest. He must not complain or lose control of his emotions, nor should he practise any art form that is traditionally associated with women. Hence when Chandan, the elder brother of Tara, was helping his mother to sort out her mistake in knitting, Patel deliberately drew a line mentioning knitting is a female occupation, strictly prohibited for the males. These patriarchal mind-sets and beliefs are detrimental to free will and individuality to be practised by both male and female members of the society. The ‘othering’ of females not only subordinates their position in the society but also silences their voices in a family. They are expected to maintain the household and take care of the children as a daughter, mother, wife, mother-in-law or sister. This play also establishes how male defines the gender roles and societal expectations for a female when Patel announces that the inherited property solely belongs to Chandan as it will be a meaningless act to waste money on a girl child. She can be left to be rejected by the society for crippleness whereas Chandan should be the fore-bearer and the representative of the family name and honour.

The researcher hence will attempt to prove how the male hegemonic practices are not only enjoyed by males, but also practised by females who once been a victim. She, now becomes the perpetrator to taste the flavours of patriarchal dominance and superiority. If Bharati, Tara’s mother unhesitatingly decided to operate the twins and provide Chandan with two legs and Tara with one, then Baa in Bravely Fought The Queen also manipulates her son Jiten to perpetrate violence on her wife, Dolly which resulted in the birth of a crippled Daksha.

Theorist Lakshmi Subramaniam demonstrates in the light of Dattani’s Tara how the male self is always preferred in all cultures as has been also noticed in several other plays of Dattani. Tara who is killed by the age old social systems and gender differences is no different from Alka or Dolly from Dattani’s Bravely Fought the Queen whose existences have been limited by their husbands. In this play, the former is beaten up by her husband while the latter is unknowingly forced into a conjugal relationship with a man who has homosexual inclinations.

The researcher hence with the help of this article will attempt to study the dilemma in the characters of the females in two of Dattani’s most popular plays, Tara and Bravely Fought the Queen in the light of societal traditions, expectations and frameworks which not only makes   an individual’s existence claustrophobic but also restricts their personal space and infringes upon their freedom.


Anisha. N. “Patriarchy and Gender Preference in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara”. Indian Theatre in English and Literary Feminism. Authorspress. 2013. (29-37)




Smita Ray- Reflection of Supressed Status of Woman in Indian Drama in English: A Socio-Cultural Study

Reflection of Supressed Status of Woman in Indian Drama in English: A Socio-Cultural Study

Seema Dhoble

The essay discusses in detail the heteronormative principles of the society where the male, being the bread earner of the family enjoys a superiority and dominance over the female who irrespective of education and money are expected to stay silent and obedient. The essayist points out how language acts like a metaphorical penis as has been put forth by Jean Jacques Lacan, to limit the territories of woman in a patriarchal society as in a ‘Patrilingual marriage’ the wife should not only live in the house where her husband has been brought up but also use the language of her husband in speaking to her children.

The paper aims to bring forth to its readers the ‘man-woman’ distinctions which are considered as discriminations to establish male as the better half, someone to be respected and revered at any cost and under all circumstances. In this patriarchal society, where a girl is always taught to be a girl, is also tutored the importance of marriage as a bond for not only social validity but economic security as well. The essayist divides the writing into several sections where she elaborates in minute details the constitutional set up for this male-female relationship in a society where “marriage is the most unavoidable and sensitive institution.”(Dhoble, 313) The essay also talks about how women in the name of religion and beliefs of dharma are kept as marginalised, illiterate and suppressed. Her voice is unheard even in the family as she is either illiterate to understand the realities of this world or she is educated enough to stay silent and hence modest.

The woman is expected to balance between her individuality and the societal expectations where she is not just a girl, but is expected to act like a mother, sister, wife or daughter-in-law. The heteronormative rules of the society limits the behaviours of men and women as appropriate and inappropriate in terms of gender identities and social expectations. A woman is expected to control her emotions and maintain boundaries of licit and illicit forms of sexuality, as she is the guardian of a family and thereby a nation’s morality. Women are dictated to be chaste and proper as chastity has been used as a mode to oppress and dominate for ages. The essayist has projected how these stereotypes have found mention in Indian Literature especially in Indian Drama. She used Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala to explain how these issues have been challenged in the writings of Modern Indian dramatists like Girish Karnad, Mahesh Dattani, Vijay Tendulkar among several others. In their essays if men are portrayed to be more concerned with power, then women are with maintaining solidarity and balance in the society The author has also brought to her reader’s notice how this discrimination is not only imposed by the male members of the society but rather by both the male and female individuals of the family which establishes it as a fight between the individual and society.

The researcher hence with the help of this essay will try to study the family culture in Mahesh Dattani’s plays Bravely Fought the Queen and Tara. In Dattani, the family instead of being the shaper of a society is an image of the very society- a product of the value system that the society stands for. He exposes the patriarchal underpinnings of this institution that has often denied freedom to its individual members. The individual in Dattani hence largely suffers as a consequence of an oppressive ideology which with all its prejudice and hypocrisy, determines the moral fabric of the family. This traditional family attaches great value to absolute obedience to and respect to the elders, marital fidelity and premarital chastity. In such families it has been often been noticed that the measures meted out to the aberrant female is deemed justified by none other than but one who has herself been the victim of domestic violence and emotional privation. Dattani’s characters in these two plays are shown to have fractured conjugal lives and troubled relationships, sometimes vehemently protesting against all the self-indulgent and unscrupulous men who treat them as commodities but towards the end they do not find a resolution, rather succumb to the already existing situation and submit to the heteronormativity and the socially ordained roles of a mother, sister, daughter in law, man and woman. The researcher hence will attempt to study the dichotomy between subversion and submission to the established norms of the society. He shows how paternalistic dominance is mitigated by mutual obligations and reciprocal rights, thereby exposing the dichotomy in characters who though subverts but finally submits to the normativity of the so called Modern Indian society.


Dhoble. Seema. “Reflection of Supressed Status of Woman in Indian Drama in English: A Socio Cultural Study”. Indian Theatre in English and Literary Feminism. Authorspress. 2013. (310-324)

Smita Ray – Expanding the Space of Patriarchy: A Study of Select Plays of Mahesh Dattani

The notable Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani who gave “sixty million English- speaking Indians an identity”, in his plays has portrayed the interiors of various traditional Hindu joint families cohabiting under one roof, dining and worshipping, sharing joys and sufferings together. These joint families attached great values to and respect to the elders, marital fidelity and pre-marital chastity. ).Dattani in his plays sketches the complex, hybrid realities of a fast changing, fast evolving Indian social milieu where traditional markers of thought and action fall critically short of explaining emerging dynamics. He not only problematizes the notion of masculinity but shows the very concept of selfhood to be in flux. Though this family has undergone huge changes since the middle of the twentieth century, but still practices politics of power that “lurks beneath patriarchal constructions of fixed gender identities/ roles and the proliferation of what Judith Butler calls ‘ hyperbolic versions of man and woman.” (Sengupta 151)

The essayist Raichel M. Sylus in his essay Expanding the Space of Patriarchy: A Study of Select Plays of Mahesh Dattani has explored how one of India’s best and most serious of contemporary playwrights, contributed to questioning the conventional themes of family relationships, morality and identity, blending several patrineally related generations cohabiting under one roof.  The essay also points out how Dattani never proposes a solution to all these problems inspite of his claim to captivate the mind of the audiences through his plays.  The author has studied how Dattani sneaks into areas where individuals feel exhausted and are constantly striving to expand the space. For Dattani, to have “shallow cardboard interpretations of women as victims, as self-sacrificial models of virtue or as promiscuous and hence unhappy people” is to miss the truth about half the human race. (Hansen 303)

The author has quoted from Sheila Ruth’s essay The Dynamics of Patriarchy which gives traits of an ideal patriarchal male. Dattani’s plays establishes male as one who can establish dominance over women in all sectors of life and society. In a world designed from the perspective of men for the convenience and comfort of men, patriarchy is more about maintaining a self-image of being triumphant at all steps over women. He showed through his male as well as female characters the stereotype of masculinity which enjoins the male to be brave, daring and dexterous, to be honourable and honest. He must not complain or lose control of his emotions, nor should he practise any art form that is traditionally associated with women. This issue has cropped up in Dattani’s Dance Like A Man where Jairaj’s desire to be a Bharatnatyam dancer was severely criticised not only by the society but his family as well. The essay also brings to the readers’ notice about how Dattani’s aim is to ‘empathise with the characters and not sympathise with them”.

The essay thus examines Dattani’s attempts to voice the voiceless and the unvoiced. Dattani never provides a solution to the themes in his plays and hence the marginalised remains the marginalised. His objective is to make the audience feel more helpless about situations that they are already facing in their day to day lives so much so that it kindle the fuel to the fire that is already burning around. His characters stand apart for endless trials to survive and succeed in a society that has become claustrophobic to them. By selecting the four most important plays of Dattani, Where There’s a Will, Dance Like A Man, Tara and Final Solutions, the essayist gives its reader an overview of Dattani’s intention behind choosing the themes for his plays and his idea behind portraying men and women in a society dominated by socially ordained roles and expectations.

The researcher who has attempted to study the dilemma in the characters of the two plays of Mahesh Dattani, Tara and Dance Like a Man, has also studied how the recurrence of submission to complacency and social hegemony in the characters of these two plays inspite of being initially subversive in their attitudes. The researcher will attempt to study the dichotomy in their nature and the indecisiveness in their demeanour. His characters don’t look for acceptance but are struggling against the oppressive weight of tradition and normative rules of this heterosexual community where each one of their existence is defined by socially ordained roles which restricts their individual actions. The essayist’s claim that in Dance Like a Man ‘the characters battle against the society that prevents them from reaching to the roots.” Jairaj’s inability to take up Bharatnatyam as his profession was due to the fear of being called ‘womanly’- an effeminate man by not only the society, but his own father and wife. This submission to heteronomativity which establishes dance to be a tabooed profession only meant for devdasis and prostitutes, has been questioned in my research. In the other play, Tara which is based on gender bias, the voice of the female characters have been subjugated and oppressed now and while for Dattani has shown how in most of the Indian families, a son is preferred over a daughter. These notions of heteronormativity have been ti e and again questioned in Dattani’s plays and as has been established by the essayist Raichel M.Sylus that his characters need to come out of the dilemma and enjoy their individualities, is also a message to his audiences and readers of how they can expand their claustrophobic domestic spaces and establish freedom and free will through their strong will to ascertain their individual importance.


Sylus. M. Raichel. “Expanding the Space of Patriarchy: A Study of Select Plays of Mahesh Dattani”. Indian Drama in English: Some Perspectives. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Ltd.  11.2 (2013). 112-120


Smita Ray – In Conversation With Mahesh Dattani

The interview extensively focusses on Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani’s choice of career and his choice of subject matters for his plays like Mango Souffle, Tara, Thirty Days in September, Uma and the Fairy Queen among several others. It widely talks about the other BBC Radio Plays as well. Dattani in this interview establishes to his audience that “the world is what we make of it.” His plays similarly talk about paternalistic dominance and acceptance of notions of heteronormativity as a mutual obligation, a society where girls are taught by their mothers and grandmothers to accept any kind of treatment unleashed by their husbands as an expression of love and affection, silently and happily. It also discusses how Dattani takes as his subject the complicated dynamics of modern urban family. It talks about the characters who struggle for some kind of freedom and happiness and often achieve them temporarily through their acts of negation and then finally submitting to themselves to the traditions of cultural constructions of gender and societal expectations.

The interview also brings to our notice Dattanis’s inspirations which include his dance guru and hence explains the tension and anxieties he might have faced like Amritlal’s sons Jairaj in Dance Like A Man.  His acknowledgement of Girish Karnad as “the most important living playwright we have in our country” also explains his extensive reading and influence of several of Karnad’s plays. The interview widely focusses on Dattani’s influence and intentions behind scripting and staging each of his plays including his first play  Where There’s A Will  to his  Final Solutions which bagged him the Sahitya Akademi Award. His recurring themes of an individual’s struggle over societal demands and inflictions have been noticed in almost all his plays which he termed as “empowered writing’. He has also mentioned how towards the end of his plays there is a coming to terms and the audience can experience a catharsis like situation. He has always put special emphasis on studying the audiences’ psyche, where they come from and why they come. Dattani’s choice of themes which mainly looks at the power play in class and gender doesn’t make him a social activist. Theatre, according to Dattani must address the playwright’s time and place so as to minimize the friction between individual, family and society. Dattani stands out by writing about the complexities of sub urban India where theatre in a country of regional and cultural diversity has to ultimately address a particular milieu. The clash between traditional and modern values in his work usually leads to their complex interplay where on the one had they are shown to be vehement against the socially prescribed rules of normativity but on the other hand are envisioning a life of tolerance and mutual recognition.

This interview though gives us a detailed information about Dattani’s life and career, but restricts itself to the discussion of very few plays and doesn’t talk about his themes in general. It doesn’t encompass Dattani’s view about his contemporary playwrights or the theatre audience of the country. Hence it can be conjectured that though this conversation has been successful in providing the necessary information about a few selected plays, but it has failed to quench the thirst of all his audiences and the theatre lovers all across the country about his choice of empowered writing over comedy or tragedy.


Banerjee, K, Utpal. Utpal K Banerjee in Conversation with Mahesh Dattani. Sahitya Akademi. Indian Literature. 48.5 ( Sep- Oct 2004)161- 167