V.P. Dhananjayan was one of the first men to make a successful career as a Bharata Natyam dancer. In the late sixties, when he made this choice, Bharata Natyam – the classic dance form that Rukmini Devi helped evolve from the dance of the devadasis – was almost exclusively the domain of women. In making Bharata Natyam his profession, Dhananjayan had to create a space for his dance where none existed. It is only recently, in the relatively short span of the past seventy years, and to a great extent because of the creative efforts of versatile and innovative dancers like Dhananjayan, that greater number of men have performed Bharata Natyam as men, without needing to dress as women to appear on stage.
As Dhananjayan's student for nearly forty years now, and a trained dancer herself, the author, Tulsi Badrinath, chronicles the story of his brilliant life in dance with the insight of one who understands each nuance of it. Weaving her own life-long passion for Bharata Natyam with his remarkable story, she brings to light the difficulties faced by a male dancer in establishing himself in what was thought to be a somewhat unrespectable profession, and tells the compelling story of his life with empathy and understanding. Writing of his years in Kalakshetra and his departure from it; of the deep love that blossomed between him and his wife, Shanta, and the incredible dance partnership they forged, making them famous as The Dhananjayans; of his international collaborations with Ravi Shankar; and of his ability, as guru and teacher, to impart his passion for dance to his disciples, she explores her own understanding of what the dance, and her guru, have meant to her.
Interspersing this remarkable tale of guru and shishya with the stories of other young male dancers in the realm of Bharata Natyam, she pays tribute to their extraordinary commitment, their talent and their courage.