The promos said:
‘Brief Candle’ is a play that addresses mortality yet highlights life, that emphasises the importance of the quality of our lives rather than how long we live it. The play is a hilarious farce with some extremely funny situations revolving around a hotel room near the airport. As the characters in the play await their departures, which are delayed due to a storm, they end up in comic situations, as they entangle themselves in surreptitious dalliances and complicated love affairs.
This led me to expect dark comedy. The play turned out to be only distressingly bleak.
A motley group of people in a hospital – the doctor, an attendant and a set of patients – are enacting a play based on the script written by another patient who has died by now. Each patient has a terrible, terminal disease. The diseases seemed to be picked to cover a range of stereotypes. During the play, each character gets their time on stage for a soliloquy, to go over the details of their fears, their illnesses and its impact on their lives.
These were very uncomfortable portions to sit through. The graphic descriptions of the illnesses did nothing for the play. It is one thing to invoke sympathy, quite another to take it to a point where one cannot bear to watch or hear about it.
The attempts at hilarity were as clichéd as the tragedy. Jokes based on regional accents have been done to death, how much more can we laugh at them?
When the play began, we didn’t know that the hotel room sequence was a “play within a play”. At that time, taken at face value, the humour felt loud and unoriginal. As people’s realities emerged, it also began to appear tasteless. The Viagra jokes were only unfunny in the beginning. Once we knew that the man had prostate cancer, they were painful.
The comic and the tragic were intercut abruptly – was it to show how the two enmesh in our lives? The device didn’t work. Before we could absorb the sombre mood after Suchitra Pillai’s story, back we were to the noisy hotel room, expected to laugh at Mr. Sengupta’s “mispronunciation” of the word Saraswati.
The play might have clicked better had it shown the hotel room sequence in the one act, and all the expository truths about the characters in another. As it stood, neither the comic nor the tragic could establish a connect.
Thankfully, the cast was made up of seasoned actors (Joy Sengupta, Amar Talwar, Suchitra Pillai, Zafar Karachiwala, Manasi Parekh and Satchit Puranik) who did the best possible with the material.
The highlight of the play was its singing. Zafar Karachiwala (Vikas) and especially Manasi Parekh (Deepika Dave) have the most beautiful voices. The waltz "Hum Apki Aankhon Mein", though not indispensable to the plot, was one of its best moments.
PS: I just discovered through a Google search that Manasi Parekh was a finalist on Channel V Popstars. No surprise there.