31 Mahesh Dattani: Tara

Dr. Shrabani Basu

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This module is about the celebrated Indian dramatist in English Mahesh Dattani, and more particularly about one of his plays “Tara.” You would be looking at a brief account of Dattani’s life and work and his career which earned him international accolades and then would concentrate on the play itself, exploring the different themes and concerns that revolve around it. This module would also contain occasional interesting facts about the playwright and the play, with some self-assessment questions to test your understanding of the play.


Written in 1990, “Tara” was initially staged as “Twinkle Tara” in the year of its writing in Bangalore. However, the year after, it was staged in Mumbai directed by Alyque Padamsee and got its present name. The play portrays the predicament of a girl child and the innate gender discrimination in our social strata. Dattani takes up the so called “invisible” issues of Indian society makes an entreaty to the audience for some emancipation from the social evils. The play explores the emotional distance that grows between two conjoined twins, following the discovery that they share a total of three legs, and one would have to be deprived for the other to be complete. The adults in their family opt for the boy to have the leg, despite the fact that the girl child had a better claim on the limb, as the blood flow in that limb was happening from her body. This brings into light the deeply entrenched socio-cultural discrimination in expense of a girl child in Indian society. As an attempt to atone the wrong done to his twin Tara, Chandan or Dan prepares to look back and confess the horror of the past.




Mahesh Dattani was born on August 7, 1958 in Bangalore, Karnataka. He was educated at Baldwin’s Boys High School followed by St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore. After graduation, he briefly worked as a copywriter for an advertising firm. In 1986, his first play, “Where There is a Will” surfaced. After the resounding success of his first play, Dattani began to concentrate on his writing and came up with an impressive oeuvre comprising “Dance Like a Man” (1989), “Tara” (1990), “Bravely Fought the Queen” (1991), “Final Solutions” (1993), “On a Muggy Night in Mumbai” (1998),“Thirty Days in September” (2001) and others. Since 1995, he has concentrated exclusively on theatre. He is the only English playwright to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award. He got this award in 1998. He also writes plays for BBC Radio and he was also one of the 21 playwrights chosen by BBC to write plays to commemorate Chaucer’s 600th anniversary in 2000.


Dattani’s “Dance Like a Man” was adapted into a film in 2003 and won the award for Best Picture in English at the National Panorama. Mahesh Dattani himself directed Mango Soufflé in 2002. He also wrote and directed Morning Raga in 2004. Starring Shabana Azmi, this movie is about a Carnatic singer whose life has been traumatized by the loss of her son and her best friend in an accident. It earned Dattani an award for Best Artistic Contribution at the Cairo Film Festival.



  • After reading Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in his early life, Dattani became interested in writing.
  • He was influenced by Gujarati playwright Madhu Rye’s Kumarni Agashi and developed interest in play writing.
  • Alyque Padamsee first spotted and encouraged Mahesh Dattani’s talent and gave him the confidence to venture into a career in theatre.
  • Dattani formed his own theatre group, Playpen, in 1984



His plays deal with the social and contemporary issues which often go unrepresented in our society. Dattani adopted different forms of drama as a medium to represent the real depth and vitality of human experience. He considers theatre as the medium to manifest the cause of the unprivileged segments of our society. His plays authentically externalize the problems and pent up feeling of the subalterns. In his plays, Dattani visits the unexplored soil of homosexuals, HIV victims, eunuchs, physically challenged populace etc. These rather radical themes of his drama, have separated him from the traditional Indian playwrights.


3.1. Gender Discrimination


Dattani’s plays have been acclaimed for their social realism and for portraying the uncomfortable truths of social evils. One such evil is the much discussed belief that a woman should always be insubordinated by a man. This female subalterneity has been explored by novelists in India, but Dattani was the first playwright to take up the crusade seriously in “Tara”, and to a certain extent in “Bravely Fought the Queen.” These plays depict how in spite of all protestations of modernity and liberalization, a woman in India is still considered secondary.


“Tara” poignantly talks the injustice perpetuated by the victim’s own mother whose preference is for a healthy male child in the expense of the female conjoined twin, makes the play more powerful as it does not simplistically dumps the blame on men but suggests that it’s women under the influence of patriarchy who often continue the chain of injustice. In “Bravely Fought the Queen,” the women remain at home much of the time, where they take care of their ageing mother in law Baa and their husbands. The type of cruelty perpetrated on Baa by her husband is revealed every now and then in the play. It is also often hinted how the two women were often confined under the intricate expectation of their imagined social roles. The recurrent image of the bonsai effectively showcases the stunted condition of the women in the household.


Nevertheless, Dattani cannot be accused of partial treatment of the theme of gender discrimination. In “Dance Like a Man” he explores the ways in which our idea of “masculinity” severely constricts the options for men, which in turn is enforced by both the male and female populace of our society.


3.2. Sexual Marginalization


Though there are subtle hints of Nitin’s homosexuality in “Bravely Fought the Queen,” “On a Muggy night in Mumbai” is widely considered to be the first Indian play boldly dealing with the subject of homosexuality. It deals with the themes of homosexual love, the vulgarity among the youths in a materialistic world, the disapproval of same-sex relationship and consigning any such relationship to trivial vulgarity, fear of ostracism and prosecution, partnership, trust and betrayal. But traditionalists consider such a relationship as something unnatural, obnoxious and disgusting one.

Dattani successfully picks up sensational issues of the society like the status of the third gender in his play “Seven Steps around the Fire”. The play involves the marriage of a beautiful hijra (eunuch) ‘Kamla’ to a son of a wealthy government minister named Subbu. But the shocking revelation transformed into the murder of Kamla. Uma Rao, a sociology scholar brings this into focus the hypocrisy and repression of this ‘high sophisticated class’ who are beyond the reach of the Law ever for calculated homicide. Mahesh Dattani depicted the appropriate reflections of society regarding the eunuch community as in the beginning of the play we see how eunuchs are treated like non-living things, they are given the pronoun ‘it/its’ by characters like Munswamy who has a strong grudge against them. On the other hand, Uma, the protagonist and mouthpiece of playwright, always accords the words ‘she/her’ for them.


3.3. Familial Discord


The concept of ‘home’ and ‘family’ do not carry their usual comforting connotations in Dattan’s plays. It is the space, where most of the discriminations, abuse and systematic dehumanization occur. Most of his plays show some sort of a dysfunctional family, where love and familial loyalty have become strangely distorted. In “Bravely Fought the Queen,” the mother in Law was systematically abused by her now deceased husband, and in turn gave all her love to her younger son who resembled her more than the elder. The two sons enter a love-less marriage with two sisters. While the elder son is abusive like his father, the younger is a closet homosexual. The two women of the house have a stunted existence and a mentally handicapped daughter. In “Dance Like a Man,” the patriarch of the household maneuvers his daughter in law Ratna’s ambition to be a famous dancer to thwart the dancing career of his son Jairaj, which he considers effeminate. In the play, in order to keep their infant child out of her way, Ratna unconsciously overdoses him with opium, accidentally killing him. In “Tara”, the girl child of the family is discriminated against by her own mother who prefers to have a healthy male child and separates the conjoined twins in her daughter’s expense, thereby disabling her and causing her premature death.


3.4. Communalism


Dattani’s “Final Solution” explored the much debated subject of communalism. It was first staged in Bangalore in 1993, focusing on the problem of communal disharmony between the Hindus and Muslims in India, especially during the period of the post- partition riots. Dattani’s purpose in depicting the post partition communal violence in India is not to convey the actual events that took place, but to present the psychological fear that has been inculcated in our minds. The play also argues that love is not restricted by religion, caste and creed, as is evident from Smita’s love for Babban. The juxtaposition of love and hatred complicates the uniform and unhindered violence that is promoted in a communal riot.




Dattani describes the setting as a multi-layered one. The lowest level, representing the Patel residence occupies the major space of the stage. It is described as plain and with minimum props. It also has an L shaped passage downstage representing the alley way outside the Patel residence, highlighted through cross lighting. The next level is the suburban London residence of the older Chandan. It is a bedsitter—with a small bed in a corner and a writing table placed more prominently with a typewriter and a sheaf of papers. Dattani points out how a portion of the wall covered in faded wallpaper can also be made visible. The highest level, a little removed from the other two stage spaces, contains a chair where Dr. Thakkar sits in a detached God-like manner throughout the play.


There are stage directions strewn minutely throughout the play describing the narrative jumps, lights, actions, facial expressions and also pauses.




Chandan— He is the narrator of the play. An aspiring writer, he attempts to write a play commemorating his conjoined twin Tara, now deceased. The play is narrated through his memories.


Tara— Chandan’s twin sister. Bright, with a wicked sense of humor, Tara has severe medical concerns after her surgery which separated the twins. She is touchy about her limp and her artificial legs, and defends her feelings from insensitive acquaintances by dismissing them as ugly or stupid. She enjoys the fanatic attention of her mother, feels lost when her mother is institutionalized and betrayed when she finds out about her mother’s role in the operation after their birth.


Bharati—Tara and Chandan’s mother. Emotionally unstable, Bharati lavishes all her attention to Tara, who she feels to have betrayed when she chose to deprive her of a healthy life in favor of Chandan. In a mad frenzy, Bharati tries to coddle Tara making her too dependent on her and tries to influence her against her father and brother to hide her guilt. She has a nervous breakdown and gets institutionalized towards the end.


Patel—Tara and Chandan’s father. Strict and unbending, Patel apparently favors Chandan and has elaborate plans for his future. He is indulgently affectionate towards Tara. He repeatedly confronts Bharati pointing out that she has spoiled Tara and Chandan’slife by making them too dependent and in the process has turned them against him. He ultimately breaks the news to Tara and Chandan that during their surgery, Bharati and her father had chosen to give Chandan unfair chance over Tara, by letting him keep two of the three legs, which ideally should have suited Tara better.


Roopa—A shallow and malicious neighbor of the Patel’s. Bharati bribes her to be friends with Tara, who she detests for being an amputee. She tries to lead Chandan on, but later complains of rape when he touches her. She is forced to silence by Tara, who threatens to expose her secret about having one breast smaller than the other. She is often the butt of Tara and Chandan’s joke, but does not understand. She conspires with her friends Prema and Nalini to emotionally scar Tara by calling her a freak.


Dr. Thakkar—He is the doctor who performs the surgery on Tara and Chandan separating them. He sits with a God-like nonchalance in the highest stage level and often speaks deeply about the surgery and the medical complications as if in an interview. It is later revealed how he conspired with Bharati and her father to unethically deprive Tara of her leg, giving it to Chandan, in lieu of three acres of prime land to build his hospital




The play starts with Chandan, now called Dan, feverishly typing a play “Twinke Tara: a Play in Two Acts”, about his long deceased sister Tara in his London bedsitter. He talks about his memories and a fanatic urge to record them to commemorate his twin sister, and how he finds himself unable to find words to write. As he speaks, we see the Patel house in a flashback as young Tara and Chandan walk in. They speak how they were joined in birth and should have remained so, but were forced to separate. Bharati, their mother, enter asking Tara and Chandan to unpack as they have moved from Bangalore to Mumbai for their treatment. She shows marked preference for Tara, as she worries over her health. Patel tries to reason with her but stops when she hints how Patel is not as fond of Tara as he is of Chandan and how he hates anything to do with their Bangalore house and their maternal grandfather. As Bharati wheedles Tara into doing her bidding, Patel tries to take Chandan to the office with him, which he refuses unless Tara goes. Their fifteen year old neighbor Roopa comes to meet them with ulterior motives to report on Tara who she considers to be a freak, to her friends. She intrudes on the twins as they bicker and play cards companionably. Patel is seen to be chatting with an invisible neighbor in the alleyway out showing concern for her wife’s health, as the children talk. Tara declares that she is strong enough to take on her life, as her mother has made her strong.


In this point, the older Chandan breaks off as her mind is wondering, and he is unable to write a word. He feels that he cannot do justice to the strong, gentle and kind Tara; their silent and angry father; and even their mother. He chooses to start his play with Dr. Thakkar, the god-like creature who had performed the crucial surgery separating the conjoined twins. He starts as if he is interviewing Dr. Thakkar from his bedsitter. He introduces him as a talented surgeon associated with some of the most prestigious hospitals in USA and India. When questioned, Dr. Thakkar replies that the twins were three months old when the surgery was performed. He talks about their conjoined condition as a “defect” and specifies how it is rare for such twins to survive and also to be of different genders. The flashback brings young Tara and Chandan back as they talk about all the doctors that they had, while listening to Brahm’s First Concerto. They talk about disparate topics like their parents coddling Tara, and how Tara came across three mean girls – Prema, Nalini and Roopa who stared at her limping, and were dismissed as she made light of her prosthetic leg. Roopa comes to visit them and is bribed by Bharati to be Tara’s friend. She asks for time to think about Bharati’s offer and goes on spreading the news to her friends maliciously.


Dr. Thakkar continues his jargon filled medical interview explaining how elaborate time-consuming procedures had shown that Tara and Chandan can survive their surgery. Patel converses with Dr. Kapoor over the phone and shows relief that Tara has found a commercial donor for her kidney transplant. Bharati protests fiercely saying that she wants to donate her organ, but Patel stops her forcibly saying that she is in no condition to donate her organ. As Bharati becomes agitated, Patel hints that Bharati is overdoing her concern for Tara to cover something up. When Bharati breaks and attempts to confess everything to the twins, Patel stops her by saying that for their good, the secret should remain so. The twins and Roopa watch films together and discuss “The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side” and their sympathy towards the Lady of Shallot, who was confined in her tower. Bharati comes in and talks to Chandan about her fears and insecurities about Tara’s future, while Chandan tries to comfort her. In the alleyway, Roopa confides in Tara the myth she has heard about the practice of the Patel community of drowning unwanted girl children in milk, so that they can tell that they have choked in their milk. As Chandan helps her mother with her knitting, Patel arrives home to find Roopa and Tara watching films. He shows his anger towards what he considers banal occupation for Tara and effeminate practice for Chandan and discloses his plans about Chandan’s future. As Bharati protests, Patel confronts her about her ‘unhealthy’ obsession with Tara and her repeated attempts to turn their children against him. As Tara approaches them, Bharati tries to stop Patel from discovering the dreaded secret, and Patel decides against it in the last moment assuring her that both her parents lover her much. An overwhelmed Tara has a seizure and as Bharati breaks down ineffectively, Patel resuscitates an almost comatose Tara with sugar. The older Chandan finishes his tale halfway, as the first Act ends.


The second Act starts with Bharati demonstrating her affection for Tara. There is a curious intensity in her behavior towards Tara who obviously enjoys her attention. Bharati is overwhelmed when Tara says that she has everything in her life as she has her mother with her. The older Chandan is seen researching an old scrap book with paper cuttings on Dr. Thakkar’s take on the various complications about their surgery. It is also disclosed that the twins will always be sterile. In the Patel residence Tara returns after her transplant with Patel and is welcomed by Roopa and Chandan. She is later informed by Patel and Chandan that her mother had a breakdown and had to be institutionalized. She is shattered and silent as Chandan tries to cheer her with jokes. Chandan refuses to apply for college as Tara does not want to go. Patel firmly asks him to get on with his life as, in his opinion, Chandan has to earn his living unlike Tara. It is further disclosed that their rich maternal grandfather has left his enormous house to the twins, but the money to Chandan. Patel displays his barely concealed hatred for his father-in-law and advises his children to burn the house rather than living in it. The twins have a poignant moment as Chandan wishes for stars for Tara, and Tara wishes for real legs and a healthy life for her brother.


Roopa comes in to spend time with Tara and Chandan and ends up discussing the film “Sophie’s Choice” with Chandan as he talks about a mother choosing between her son and her daughter. As she leads him on a little, Chandan ends up trying to initiate his first sexual encounter. Roopa stops him and accuses him of mollestattion. As Tara enters, Roopa tries to convince her that Chandan had tried to rape her. Tara forces her to silence by threatening to disclose her secret of having uneven breasts. Roopa swears revenge and runs away after disclosing that she became her friend after being bribed by Bharati. Tara bemoans the futility of money and effort to treat her. She also resolves to spend her life treating the underprivileged people with health issues. Chandan tries to comfort her and is rebuffed as Tara angrily shows her contempt for Chandan and Patel. The older Chandan is seen making a phone call to his father and being informed of his mother’s demise. He displays a decided lack of concern and refuses to return.


Tara is surprised as she is kept away from her mother. She discloses her suspicion to Chandan that Patel is deliberately keeping the twins away from their mother to keep her from disclosing incriminating secrets about him. As Tara confronts Patel, he finally confesses about the secret which Bharati has been keeping all these years. He reveals that Bharati’s father was an extremely wealthy industrialist and an influential MLA. Patel had to go against his family to marry Bharati. They had a happy marriage and were happy about having twins. But when they were born conjoined hugging each other, the family decided to recruit Dr. Thakkar for surgically separating them. The twins had three legs between the two of them and only one of the twins will have two legs. The medical reports had revealed that Tara will have better chances of carrying both the legs than Chandan. But Bharati and her father bribed Dr. Thakkar with three acres of prime land for his hospital, to give the two legs to Chandan. The leg was rejected by Chandan’s body and had to be amputed. After this, Bharati has always dreaded the secret of her favoring Chandan over Tara coming out and had tried to make it up for Tara by lavishing attention on her and turning the twins against Patel lest he discloses the secret. Tara is bewildered and shattered in learning of her mother’s betrayal and fades away slowly as Roopa and her cronies shouts insults at her in the alleyway.


Chandan banishes Dr. Thakkar with all his greedy ugliness from his memories and informs the audience that he needs to atone for his guilt against his sister by writing this tragedy of Tara. He expresses his deep anguish that his family had favored him over Tara and begs her forginess as his life was saved at her expense. As he speaks, Tara comes and faces him and they hug tightly in the manner they were born.




7.1 Chandan and Tara’s relationship in Tara


The title “Tara” symbolizes the temporary brilliance of a shooting star. Tara’s appearance in the play is through memories as short-lived and as brilliant as a shooting star. Tara is remembered and depicted through Chandan’s carefully chosen memories of togetherness and then separation. In spite of their physical separation, they are spiritually inseparable. With the demise of Tara, Chandan experiences a sense of identity crisis. In their childhood there was also a curious reversal of gender role, where Chandan preferred a home-bound life with preoccupations which their father considered ‘effeminate’ and Tara was more aggressively dominant of the two. They are born as ‘inseparably fused’- hugging each other symbolizing their emotional coherence at the very outset. Chandan envisages their reconciliation towards the end of the play as they get together in a tight embrace, back to their prenatal connection. “…And me. Maybe we still are. Like we’ve always been. Inseparable. The way we started life. Two lives and one body, in one comfortable womb. Till we were forced out…” (325). They remind us of Rahel and Estha in Arundhuti Roy’s celebrated novel God of Small Things, twins separated through fate, yet connected metaphysically.


7.2 Gender Identity in Tara


Dattani sees “Tara” as a play about the gendered self, about accepting the ‘other’ gendered side of oneself in a world that favors always what is ‘male’. Chandan’s interest in a domestic life and ‘feminine’ occupations displeases Patel. The twins, especially ‘Tara’, are repeatedly referred to as “freaks”, not just because they were once conjoined twins but also for their non-conformity of the social expectations. Tara’s forceful character and wit is considered to be un-feminine by all. She is the possibility that is ‘crippled’ in favor of the male, her brother. Here she is symbolically similar to the bonsais in “Bravely Fought the Queen”, which symbolizes the deliberate stunting of the natural growth and development of a woman in our society. Tara’s leg is callously separated from her to render her twin brother ‘normal’ and ‘whole’. Tara’s victory at the card game is seen as thorough cheating and Chandan is ashamed to admit her victory. He sees her as a good business woman as she cheats at cards; not attributing it to her business acumen, but to her shrewdness. Even Patel ignores her future prospects and the need to engage her in any meaningful endeavor. She is forced to conform to the stereotype of the Indian woman, meek and mild, devoid of any intellect, deemed fit only to perform mechanical household chores. Tara quips at this: “The men in the house were deciding on whether they were going hunting while the women looked after the cave.”(328) She highlights the plight of women who were presumed to be suitable for the domestic domain only. Consequently, we find out that the maternal grandfather and Bharati represent tradition, and prefer the male over the female as the perpetuator of familial legacy.


7.3 Mother and Daughter Relationship

Though Bharati obsessively dotes on her daughter Tara, she insensitively attributes a piece of her daughter to the son. The Woman causes the deformity of another woman in favor of a Man. All her fanatic attempts to create an accepting world for Tara is apparently an attempt to ease her guilt of destroying Tara’s life by depriving her of her leg. She means to make up to Tara for her initial injustice and make her dependant on her mother unconditionally. She attempts to bribe Roopa into being friendly with Tara, to augment her loneliness. She also tries to establish her moral superiority over Patel to justify her actions and to create a way out for the eventuality in case, the sordid episode of the surgery comes to light. She also attempts to donate her kidney for Tara, which ultimately becomes futile. Her relationship with her daughter becomes grotesque under the influence of patriarchy which moulds them by determining the values, roles, gender perceptions and expectations.

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