The 2000-year old Sanskrit farce Bhagavadajjukam, on which Jagriti Theatre’s The Yogi And The Dancer is based, is probably the oldest implementer of the Body Swap device (or, as they’d say in Sanskrit, Parakaya Pravesha). The Body Swap has been seen since then in various creative works – novels, movies, manga and more. Films like Freaky Friday or Dating The Enemy use the device for comic effect, not without some learning for the characters involved. Others like Jhuk Gaya Aasman or Down To Earth use it to take the tale through bizarre twists.
When the switcheroo is between a Yogi and a Dancer, the scripting possibilities are rich. Would there be a clash of moral standpoints, a gaining of new perspective? A lesson, perhaps, that the Dancer can live for greater purpose than pining gigglingly for her beloved, that the Yogi can do well to sometimes prioritize medication over meditation?
Tennyson wrote ‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’. What he did not mention is that some men think that it is eternally spring and that they are eternally young. And, of course, they have their own interpretation of what ‘love’ means. The title BaDe Miyan Deewane which means "old chap’s gone crazy" harks back to a popular song from the movie Shagird.
Meer Sahib is one of those ‘young men’, an octogenarian with a leg or two in his grave. He has been limping along in the journey of life with his body firmly supported by a couple of tawaifs Gulab and Heera. And suddenly, he takes a fancy to his neighbour’s young daughter Suraiya. He thinks it is time to move from the tawaif to a wife. The tawaifs are, of course, flabbergasted at losing a steady source of income. Having invested their past on Meer Sahib, they want a share in his future. Though mutual rivals, they decide to form a partnership in an attempt to thwart him from marrying Suraiya.
A trilingual take on Kipling
My first encounter with Kipling was with Rikki Tikki Tavi, from his collection of short stories published under the title Jungle Book, some sixty years after he had been honoured with a Nobel Prize. Much later when the Disney movie Jungle Book hit the Indian screens, I enjoyed the way some of those short stories had been woven into one narrative, though sadly RTT was not a part of it. Jungle Book is best known today as the adventures of the ‘man-cub’ Mowgli, and it is this version that this play brings on to the stage.
Let me not waste any time on the plot – most people already know it: a human child raised by the wolves, with some help from a bear and a panther, who protect it from other creatures in the jungle – and get on with this play.
Most of the characters in Rangbaaz Group’s Jungle Book speak English or Hindi or both. The Bandar Log seem to be the only ones who are trilingual, chattering in Marathi with each other. They sing various Hindi songs and play rhyming word games. If you had any doubt as to where the troupe was from, the monkeys put them to rest – they were from Bum-bay, sorry Mumbai. One of them even reminded me of my favourite Marathi comedian Ashok Saraf, sans his trademark moustache , which I understand has now parted ways with him. The Marathi used was simple and, accompanied by energetic escapades of the monkeys, elicited appreciative cheers from the crowd to such an extent that language did not really matter.
A Kannada play from Kalagangotri, Bengaluru
I walked into the theatre with a premonition that this might have something to do with Kissa Kursi Ka or Yes, Minister. I was proved wrong. This two-hour comedy has few one-liners, which are usually the staple of comedies. Instead, actions and reactions make you laugh. Mukhyamantri also makes you realise that *seeing* a drama is a richer experience than merely hearing it on the radio.
The stage was swathed in white: the ‘divans’-and-bolsters for visitors at the party office and at the CM’s residence, the dining table, a colleague’s residence, the party ‘uniform’ (including the cap). The exceptions to this colour scheme were a few telephones, an extinct contraption called a typewriter (some of you might have to Google that), three ladies who brought in a modicum of colour, and the hearts of the characters involved.
Chief Minister of Udayachal, Krishna Dwaipayana Kaushal is worried about losing his chair, as rivals in the party are jockeying to catch the High Command’s eye and grab his post. But he is made of sterner stuff. His various machinations to retain the position remind us that liquor, flesh and food may be powerful motivators, but the most potent of them all is ‘power’.
Mariam’s Third Marriage: A Kannada play from VASP
Wodehouse has amply demonstrated Bertie Wooster’s proclivity to get into trouble in the absence of Jeeves. Wooster without Jeeves is unimaginable, or is it the other way around…?
Take this plot:
A big game hunter’s millionaire master makes it to the obituary column, after an attempt to be photographed with a lion which, he thought, was dead (the lion thought otherwise). The hunter, in the meantime, falls for the deceased’s wife, but has to put a lid on his feelings because you can’t just propose to a lady who is far wealthier than you.
Back in town, the hunter goes to the races and wins a couple of large bets, but the bookie and his assistant run away instead of paying up. The bookie is none other than the local landlord who, though owning a large palatial house, is impoverished without any other source of income than running book. He and his trusted manservant stash their hats, robes and fake moustaches as soon as they get home. The manservant is Jeeves, of course. Everyone brings their problems to him.
A rom-com in Kannada from VASP
A mother is worried about her efforts to bring home a daughter-in-law because her husband and her son are big stumbling blocks to that venture. Her husband is a walkie-talkie version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, with his own definitions for all and sundry words – he brings these up in every conversation regardless of relevance or propriety. Her son, our hero, is bristling with revolutionary zeal, which permeates every verse of poetry he writes, decrying the sordid and morbid state of affairs around him. Any meeting with a prospective bride’s family invariably leads to disaster on account of the verbal deluge from the father and son duo.
Things change when a middle-aged couple and their daughter, our heroine, move into the neighbouring house and come to visit. The male of the pair is put off by our hero’s father, though his wife falls to some extent for his humourous banter. The daughter seethes with anger at the men of the world, and her anger seeks vent in vitriolic poetry. She comes into our hero’s life as a thundering whirlwind (though the hero’s mother has a more colourful description for her), leaving him disturbed in her wake.