The plays of Mahesh Dattani are centered around the emotional, sexual and financial problems in the Indian urban middle-class or upper-middle class families. Within the family structure Dattani challenges the universal questions of traditional and stereotyped gender-roles. It is here that the relevance of the title of his play Bravely Fought the Queen lies. Alluding to the story of the Rani of Jhansi in the title, Dattani shows how the two women, Dolly and Alka, fight like men against emotional adversities to create an identity for themselves though their position, in the Trivedi household, is a stereotyped subjugated one.
Dattani's play exposes the politics of the Indian joint family, revealing the gender differences and the rupture between the world of men and that of women. Though the audience is first introduced into the world of women but that of men, through the melodious 'thungri' of Naina Devi, they are not obvious to the male dominaion over the female in a patriarchal set-up. Dolly and Alka, married to Jiten and Nitin Trivedi respectively, may apparently have a financially solvent life; however, in reality, they are compelled by their husbands to be practically mere nurses for their sick and senile mother, Baa. The stoic endurance of these two women is no less than the heroism of Lakshmi Bai, referred to in the title.
The title of the play focuses attention on unusual occasions of bravery exhibited by women like the Rani of Jhansi. The bravery of Dolly and Alka in perpetually enduring an enclosed and claustrophobic existence, is o les. They are always compelled to stay at home with no recreation of relief from the demanding bell-ringing of Baa. They are not even informed that the dinner at the Kapoor's that they had eagerly looked forward to had been called off. Dolly expectedly prepares for it with her beauty-mask, filing her nails and wearing an expensive saree; Alka too, pleads Nitin for an outing, though the dinner has been cancelled – to no avail. There is no doubt that they are victims of patriarchal exploitation, insensitivity and indifference.
The title of the poem refers to a popular Hindi poem that celebrates the manly exploits of Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, who had ought bravely during the battle between the British forces and the Indian revolutionaries in 1857 – "Khub ladi mardani thi / Wo to Jhansiwali Rani thi." Unlike Lakshmi Bai, Alka and Dolly, do not venture into the battlefield to establish their rights. Their fight is an indirect and subtle one, remaining within the domain of a stereotyped marital life. Dolly's mud-mask is a relevant metaphor suggesting how bravely the two women have to masquerade as happy wives of successful and prosperous husbands though inwardly they are most frustrated and miserable ones.
Dolly's brave fight against adverse circumstances lies in enduring a life of shame and ignominy. Jiten is a letch who entertains prostitute at his office to satisfy his lust. He is a wife-beater who had brutally kicked Dolly at an advanced stage of pregnancy, so that their only daughter, Daksha, has been born a spastic and has been sent away to a special school at Ooty. Most Indian women who have miserable marital experiences, find solace in motherhood. However, Dolly is deprived of this, despite being a mother. She compensates for it occasionally by protecting and consoling Alka like a mother, whenever the latter is about to collapse emotionally.
Through Alka's suffering and brave endurance, Dattani touches upon the theme of hypocrisy about alternative sexuality in Indian society. Unlike On a Muggy Night in Mumbai, where gay issues have been openly discussed, in Bravely Fought the Quuen, Nitin's homosexuality is one of the family secrets. Alka feels deeply betrayed whenever she remembers that her brother Praful, who had a gay relationship with Nitin eversince their schooldays, cleverly got her married as a cover to surreptitiously continue their relationship. The title indicates the pain with which Alka bravely tolerates her present life of misery.
Alka's fight is primarily passive, taking refuge in alcoholism. Yet occasionally, she would lose her equilibrium, accusing Baa of creating a barrier between her and Nitin, for which she could never have any children. Though Baa's reminiscence suggests that she had indeed incited Nitin into hating Alka, out of possessiveness, the real reason for Nitin's coldness to her is his homosexuality.
Though generally Alka is passive about her resistance, she occasionally puts up a fight like the Rani of Jhansi. Once in a state of drunkenness, she had daringly posed a shocking question to Baa regarding the father of Nitin and Jiten. For this explosive and sarcastic protest, she had been brutally expelled from the house, a common Indian way to teach a rebellious woman a lesson. Only after Praful's and Dolly's repeated pleadings, had she been accepted into the Trivedi household. The incident had so completely broken the spirit of the two women that they can never conceive of ever rebelling against their unfortunate circumstances. Their bravery lies in quietly enduring their miserable fate.
The irony of the tile lies in the fact that none of the two women are able to actively rebel to transform their humiliating positions. Marxist feminists insist that without financial independence, a woman's subjugated condition can never change. Having no opportunity for earning their livelihood, Dolly and Alka will remain forever in the stunted state of Bonsais looking beautiful but inwardly unfulfilled and lonely. Their frustration at times drives them into playing destructive and aggressive games on each other through verbal attacks and slander. While Dolly accuses Alka of separating Praful from the family, Alka never misses the chance of deriving sadistic fun out of Dolly's spastic child. Unlike Lakshmi Bai, who actively attempts to win her rights through battle, Dolly and Alka's yearning for love, emancipation and dignity remains a passive dream.
The plays of Dattani repeatedly challenge and question the established assumptions about gender-roles. In Dance like a Man, he depicts a man's quest for identity in the women's world of Bharatnatyam, just as in Bravely Fought the Queen, he shows the woman's struggle for independence and identity in a world dominated by men. The legend of Lakshmi Bai in the title suggests the possibility for a woman's victory in a manly world; however Dattani's play rises questions about the possibilities of this success.
Role of women:
The position of Lalitha and Baa is more complex than that of the two sisters. Though Lalitha appears to be luckier than Dolly and Alka, she conceals her husband's chauvinistic control over her poetry-writing and bonsai-making. Baa had been a victim of her husband' brutality, enduring the torture of being bashed up on her face. Her husband had become rich on her father's property. Ironically, as a mother-in-law, she is another face of patriarchy, torturing Dolly and Alka.
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