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Disha Khanna

Disha Khanna: Mahesh Dattani’s On a Muggy Night in Mumbai

Homosexuality - An abnormal aberration of Human Society in Mahesh Dattani's On a Muggy Night in Mumbai

The question of homosexuality is largely a thought-provoking subject of taboo in Indian civil society. Although existence of homosexuality is evident in Indian culture since pre-historic times, as visualized in different forms of art like paintings and carvings in temples, homosexuals are not acknowledged as a separate identity in India and depicted as abnormal human beings. Homosexuality is a romantic fascination or in other words, a sexual attraction between members of the same sex or gender. Most people have multifarious notions towards the recognition and identity of homosexuality. Firstly, there is the existence of those humans who ponder that homosexuality is in contradiction to Indian culture and is immoral and unnatural. Secondly, the progressive class of people which venerates an individual's right to cherry-pick his/her sexuality. Thirdly, those multitude of parents who enunciate that everyone has a right of choice but anticipate and invoke to God, Almighty that their own sons should not be labelled as gay. Even those parents who are prepared to be recognised as modern will not let their progenies to be branded as homosexuals, as it will levy a blot on their clean chitterlings. Finally, the last chunk of individuals is those who are deft in cracking cheap jokes on homosexuality and ridiculing the underestimated fraternity.

Mahesh Dattani, India's leading English dramaturge and the 1998 Sahitya Academy Award winning playwright, makes homosexuals of India give a vent to their pent up emotions on homosexuality, for the first time in the Indian theatre in his play On a Muggy Night in Mumbai (Naik 1982). A Bangalore born product of 1958, Mahesh Dattani is unanimously acclaimed as one of the paramount playwrights in  modern India. He shines as a subtle writer who fancies to write about lifelike, suppressed and traumatic problems of Indian citizens rather than indulge in romantic and whimsical philosophies. His plays are a slice of social life. They exhibit the true portrayal of life as it is (Ayyar 2001: 15). In his own words, "I am certain that my plays are a true reflection of my time, place and socio- economic background."

Dattani outlines the hollowness, pettiness and ugliness of modern age in his plays. He dexterously moulds his subject so that it is representative of a class and at the same time is appealing. His plays traverse across linguistic and cultural barriers. Dattani being a versatile genius makes abundant use of Indian mythology, rituals and contemporary hitches which India is beset with but he elevates these themes to the zenith, touching the human chords that emanate love, happiness, sexual fulfilment and problem of identity. "I write for my milieu, for my time and place - middle-class and urban Indian," confesses Dattani (Mee 1997: 21).

My dramatic tensions arise from people who aspire to achieve
freedom from society. … I am not looking for something
sensational, which audiences have never seen before… some
subjects which are under-explored, deserve their space. It's
no use brushing them under the carpet. We have to understand
the marginalized, including the gays. Each of us has a sense of
isolation within given texts. That's what makes us individual.

On a Muggy Night in Mumbai is a piece of performance that showcases the societal space of viciousness and humiliation faced by homosexuals. Adapted to a film Mango Soufflé, On a Muggy Night in Mumbai is the unsurpassed and the most intricate play that debates the socio-psychological identity crisis of the gays who are utterly shattered between social taboos, subjective whims, inner conscience and what the outmoded Indian society ruminates and presumes of them. It sensationalises the skirmishes, torments, predicaments, insecurities, qualms and frustrations of the gays in a materialistic society. It is a drama about how society generates configurations of behaviour and how susceptible it is for personages to fall dupe to anticipations that society crafts. Thus, Dattani efforts to scrutinize the identity crisis of the gays who inhabit non-praiseworthy space in cosmic social order where traditionalists ponder such a relationship as something atypical, detestable and repulsive one.

Dattani conveys that in an old-fashioned and conservative society, sustaining a life of a gay is not as easy as ABC. Number of times homosexuals have to completely conceal their actual identity from being ostracised and excluded from the present society.

On a Muggy Night in Mumbai is a "metro-sexual love story" that heaves a foremost skeleton out of collective closets - sovereignty of sexual choice (De 2003). Outspoken and clear-cut, it expedites into the realm of gays through a love triangle that turns into a quadrangle with astonishing outcomes.

In this play, Kamlesh and Prakash were zealous and ardent lovers. But Prakash had abruptly transformed into Ed by feeling abashed of being homosexual. Then his eyes befell on Kiran, who inappropriately transpired to be Kamlesh's sister. In due course of time, Kamlesh's sexual prerequisites were being fulfilled by Sharad, who was still passionately in adoration with Prakash. Incidentally Prakash once again bumped into the life of Kamlesh as a lover of his sister, Kiran. Ed has abandoned him because he wants to hide his gay identity and therefore he intends to marry Kiran who is Kamlesh's sister. He longs to remain in touch with Kamlesh through Kiran so that nobody suspects his identity. He says, "Nobody would know. Nobody would care…I'll take care of Kiran. And you take care of me" (p 105). When she got cognizance of this dwindling relationship, she displayed all compassion for the gay community and homosexual associations. At one point of time, Kiran innocuously commented: "I really wish they would allow gay people to marry". And she gets a reply from Ranjit who says, "They do. Only not to the same sex" (p 98). He visualizes no future in an open gay liaison. He does not yearn himself to be branded as a gay publically. He defends himself of his intentions of pretending 'straight' in the arguments in the party when by discoursing,

Look around you. Look outside…There are real men
and women out there. You have to see them to know
what I mean. But you don't want to. You don't want
to look at the world outside this- this den of yours.
All of you want to live in your own little bubble (p 99).

On the other hand, Deepali is a 'sensible' lesbian amid the entire group. She feels compassionate and concerned for Kamlesh and has an affinity towards him which is replicated in her tête-à-tête with Kamlesh, "If you were a woman, we would be in love…If you were heterosexual, we would be married" (p 65). She is vocal of her sexual inclinations in her arguments at the party and says, "It's not shame, is it? With us? Of the corners we will be pushed into where we don't want to be" (p 89) and of the gay cause, "I am all for the gay men's cause. Men deserve only men!" (p 60).

Deepali, like her co-brethren, is in the apprehension of being positioned in the margins: "It's not shame, is it? With us? . . . It's fear . . . Of the corners we will be pushed into where we don't want to be" (p14).

The guard who does odd jobs for the people at the party is also a homosexual who is seen putting up his attires in front of Kamlesh just at the commencement of the play. Ranjit who desires to obscure his gay identity in India has his gay partner residing in England.

Mahesh Dattani has adeptly showcased the burning issue of today of gays enjoying proper empathy and reverence in the society in his existing play. Every person next door may be a homosexual but dread of barring, restrains him from exposing his real self and thus endures with the pretence of heterosexual (Bhatia 1987). Through this play, Mahesh Dattani has endeavoured to relax the subtly exasperated society towards the gay community and stir up benevolence for these people.

On a Muggy Night in Mumbai is a treasure-house of all the homosexual characters Kamlesh, Sharad, Ed, Ranjit, Bunny and Deepali simultaneously breathing in two worlds. The entire play compacts with unisexual and bisexual love relationships. None has ever taken the bold initiative of declaring in the open about their sexual orientation and are never liberal to freak in and out of the closet. Kamlesh, fretful about his homo erotic friendship for Prakash, becomes correspondingly alarmed about his sister and attempts not to prove hindrance to her love life which incidentally abides around Prakash alias Ed. Ranjit has established in UK where he can overtly proclaim his desires. Bunny, too is clearly attune with the situation: "Do you think I will be accepted by the millions if I screamed from the rooftops that I am a gay" (p13) .

Through the serial, Yeh Hai Hamara Parivaar, he has become an epitome of normal heterosexual union as Kiran exclaims: "You are an ideal husband and father! I can't imagine anyone else in that part." (15) The "ideal husband and father" tag keeps his wife "content". Dreading the social disapproval he adores his co-brethren to be secretive about it. There is a sort of guilt complex in him for being a nonconformist in their conjugal life but lacks the ethical audacity to admit it amenably or even rectify the damage by being compassionate to her. Henceforth, his public image of a happily conjugal man becomes an alluring trap to which he rescues no outflow. Kiran also becomes marginal when she is a divorced individual in the society's vigilant eyes: "At the party, I felt their stares, as if they were saying, 'That's Kiran. The one whose husband dumped her'" (p 21). Hence, her counsel to Kamlesh is: "Don't let people know about you. You will spend your whole life defending yourself." And adds: "if I had a choice, I would stay invisible too" (p 22). That the periphery/marginal is not accommodated by the centre there arise a desire to form an alternative identity which in itself establishes the presence of the centre. In addition to it, the peripheral is supposed to shield its deviances throughout so as to be acknowledged by the centre. Herein crops up a sense of predicament which leads to a kind of identity muddle.

In one of Kamlesh's speeches, the mental agony to be a gay is established:

Please! I am afraid! I need your help! I need you all. I am afraid,
frightened. (Pause.) After Sharad went away- I decided that I
didn't need anyone to live with me. I had my work. That should
have been enough. It wasn't. I felt this void. The same feeling
when three years ago, Prakash left me, I would have understood
it if he had left me for another man, but he left me because he was
ashamed of our relationship. It would have worked between us,
but he was ashamed. I was very angry. I left my parents and my
sister to come here……..for the first time in my life, I wished I
wasn't a gay (p 68-69).

The drama even dared to revitalise the façade of sexlessness from male-male intimacy, dealing pliably with homosexuality. It also efforts to dispense with conventional and so called orthodox, man/woman role playing. When Sharad the political erroneous queen rants against 'penis power' and the 'macho-man' syndrome, Dattani gives the impression to be pointing at the communal spaces between gay and feminism liberation where both situate a familiar oppressiveness in the straight male and his assertion of phallocentric normal the self-delusion of their creed. Sharad is mindful of the implications of his insinuations and this part of the action requires a deep resonance as the gay man speaks to the lesbian and both are intelligent, open and gay people unashamed of their sexual choices.

Sharad is the antithesis of Ed who is vocal and totally loquacious of his gay identity. "Let the world know that you exist. Honey if you flaunt it, you've got it" (p70). He himself concedes that "I am not bisexual. I am gay as a goose." (p100) and teases Ed with his speech on 'Macho Man Syndrome' that Ed tries to feign:

You see, being a heterosexual man- a real man as Ed put
it- I get everything. I get to be accepted- accepted by whom?
Well that marriage lot down there for instance. I can have a
wife, I can have children who will all adore me simply because
I am a hetero…….I beg your pardon- a real man. Now why
would I want to give it all up? So what if I have to change a
little? If I can be a real man I can be king. Look at all the kings
around you, look at all the male power they enjoy, thrusting
themselves on to the world, all that penis power! Power with
sex, power with muscle, power with size (p 101).

Twice in the play, Ed makes an attempt to commit suicide which showcase that he is the frailest of all the homosexuals because he is suffering the most from this identity crisis. Ed doesn't want his true identity to be revealed even to his best buddies and to his sweetheart also. He is deeply heartbroken in the end when his gay identity is revealed to the society and to his fiancé through his photograph with Kamlesh where both are naked and embracing each other. He is in a dilemma as to what to do: "Where do I begin? How do I begin to live?" (p111).

The play is a vindication of rights of the gays who at least prerequisite some social space to overcome their identity crisis. The play culminates with 'Fade out last on the picture of Ed and Kamlesh, Kiran and Kamlesh holding each other' implying the acceptance of gay identity by at least one heterosexual and revelation to the rest of the society and the picture depicts that the reality will be everlasting howsoever or whosoever tries to negate it.

Reminiscing the Mumbai staging of On a Muggy Night in Mumbai, Dattani eulogises, "During the interval on opening night, I overheard the husband of an elderly couple behind me, say: `You know, in Europe, they actually allow gay people to marry; men marry men, women marry women... ' She said, `I read about it. Now things are changing. All this is in the open.' There was no judgment in their conversation, only wonder. I felt so moved by it" (p 46).

Dattani in one of his interviews pronounces, "You can talk about Feminism because in a way that is accepted. But you can't talk about gay issues because that's not Indian, that doesn't happen here" (Chaudhury 2005).

Homosexuality is not a fatal disease or mental illness that requires to be, or can be, 'cured' or 'altered', it is just an added expression of human sexuality (Iyengar 1985). Homosexuals are as normal as 'you' and 'me' or 'anybody' around. Yet, just because they love 'their own kind', they are ostracised and persecuted by the law. And branded as 'queers' and 'aberrations' - specifically what they are not. Homosexuals are typical humans attracted to their own gender. They sustain in their own make-over world temporarily liberal from any restrains and societal aversions.

One should enjoy the entire freedom in his own hands to opt the gender he aspires to indulge in. But the societal based environmental hazards impose him to be heterosexual. He has to garb himself with the veil of being a heterosexual by totally defying his wishes. If one is blessed with a male organ, he has no right to have physical relationship with another male as the civilization's protocol considers it to be immoral and debauched.

Thus, at the culmination of the paper, volley of questions are thrown up for the humanity to ponder upon gay identity and acceptability which otherwise the society would prefer to sweep under the carpet and be mum on the burning issue. Intimate same-sex behaviour in India has always been looked down on as an act of disgrace. According to Indian social structure, a man has to prove his machismo by having sex with a woman and by becoming a father. This generates a social and familial pressure for men to marry women. Men with a preference for homosexuality thus only enter heterosexual relationships to satisfy social expectations, and in order to save their family structure and social status. On a Muggy Night in Mumbai lifts the blanket of secrecy that shrouds the marginalized cultures, sexualities and lifestyles. Can homosexuality transform into heterosexuality? Is homosexuality an unnatural aberration of human society? The above piece of work challenges to pose these consistent questions, fully being aware that the ultimate solutions are hardly conceivable but is still expectant.


Ayyar, Raj. "Mahesh Dattani: India's Gay Cinema Comes of Age." Gay Today 8.167 (2001):

Bhatia Krishna S. - 'Indian English Drama: A Critical Study', Sterling Publisher, 1987. Print.

Chaudhury, Asha Kuthari. Mahesh Dattani. New Delhi: Foundation Books, 2005. Print.

Dattani, Mahesh. Mahesh Dattani: Collected Plays. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000. Print.

De, Aditi. "Out of the Closet, On the Screen."The Hindu (March 9, 2003):

Dhawan R.K. - 'The plays of Mahesh Dattani', Prestige, New Delhi, 2005. Print.

Dhawan R.K. and Reddy V.K.- 'Flowering of Indian English Drama'. 2002. Print.

Iyengar,K.R.S.-'Indian writing in English', Sterling publisher,1985 . Print.

Mee, Erin B. "Mahesh Dattani: Invisible Issues." PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 19.1 (January 1997): 19-26. Print.

Naik M. K.-'History of Indian English Literature', Sahitya Akademi, 1982. Print.



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