He was just five when he watched the film Padaiyappa in which actor Ramya Krishnan was dancing in anger.
That struck him, and he started expressing himself through this medium since then. For Patruni Sastry, dance is a way to express stigmas and stereotypes that people have built up; be it related to LGBTQIA, sex education or any other social issues. “I am a Telugu, but was born and brought up in Kharagpur, West Bengal. Looking at my interest in the art form, my father introduced, and made me join Kuchipudi classes. Taking this further, he enrolled me with the renowned Kalamandalam Venkitt in Kolkata. Every month, I used to travel a five-hour distance to attend a five-hour class. That’s how my journey with dance began. This went on for seven years where I learnt Bharatanatyam from him,” says the 25- year-old.
“When I was in school, because of my gender, I was always picked the last. Being a male dancer, my sexuality was always questioned. I got tagged as a homosexual. There were instances, where people mocked me. I realized that it’s just not a male classical dancer who is stereotyped but the LGBTQIA too is always kept on the fringes because of lack of awareness,” he further shares.
Sastry, who studied engineering, started using ‘expressionism’ which was a tool to spread awareness during World War II.
“During my college days, I was bullied. This resulted in performances where I expressed myself and interestingly, everyone took note of it. I did more research. I also understood that sex education was avoided because ofthe fact that most of the teachers found it difficult to use and communicate the meaning of terms. The traditional dancers questioned my way of expression, and they still do. But, my point is, if dance can educate people, then, why not use this medium to convey the message?”
The dancer who shifted to Hyderabad in 2015 and is currently working as an enabling analyst in a well-known MNC, adds, “Just because I am a male, an adult male to be precise, many dance academies denied access to their classes, and if they did, took advantage. Ananda Shankar Jayant, who is my guru, came to my rescue. She made me learn how to balance work and passion.”
Elaborating on the issues that male classical dancers face, Sastry says,“We are body-shamed if our body has extra flab. No proper green rooms are provided to male dancers before a performance and we’re asked to change behind the stage where 20-odd people would stare. This scenario needs to be changed. At the end of the day, what we are delivering is an art, and without art, one cannot see the world or talk about a situation in a better way. The only way we can change this is by asking the male dancers to come forward and talk about issues that we are facing which will help the society understand and create a better space together for all the artistes out there.”