Our lives are shaped by memories. Incidents from years ago that struck so deep their vibrations still live within us, that have made us into the people we are today. The Blue Mug is a recounting of such memories, by a formidable line-up of actors – Vinay Pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Munish Bhardwaj, Sheeba Chaddha. In a fluid criss-cross, the actors take turns to narrate vignettes from their lives. The stories are as varied as the people telling them – sleeping on the terrace on summer nights, deaths of loved ones, visits of big-city kids to their ancestral home in a small town, circus jokers that strike you with terror.
In between real-life narratives of the cast comes a slice of fiction: the tale of Joginder (Ranvir Shorey), a Sikh man whose brain is stuck in a time warp – he can remember nothing of his life beyond 1983.
We get to know Joginder through his conversations with the doctor. Joginder is talkative and friendly. His words tumble out and run into each other, he takes a hundred words to say what could be said in ten, he utters something inappropriate and is endearingly embarrassed. He keeps the audience in splits. He is also the saddest, most disturbing character in the play. His breakdown on seeing his reflection is heartrending – the only consolation is that Joginder soon forgets about it.
This mingling of opposing emotions runs throughout The Blue Mug. Despite its laugh-out-loud moments, the mirth is never let loose for too long – there is always a sombre idea lurking around the corner, almost making us feel guilty for our guffaws of a moment ago.
The doctor’s role, originally played by Konkona Sen Sharma, was played this time by Shipra Singh. If we discount Konkona’s star power, those were probably easy shoes to fill – the doctor doesn’t have much to do in The Blue Mug. Which leads me to wonder if any other actor could have fit into the role of Joginder so beautifully. I think not. In the way Ranvir Shorey enacts this character, he creates something inimitable, irreplaceable.
The political and cultural climate of the 1970s and 1980s form the backdrop of the cast’s growing-up tales. There is the Emergency, the Sikh riots, the DSP uncle who gets special seats to watch the circus, the distant equation between father and son, the cinema of that era. Cinema – that crops up very often. For Vinay Pathak, Jyoti Bane Jwala was the scene of bravado of his college dadagiri days; Munish’s first visit to the hall to watch Haathi Mere Saathi was his moment of awe at the screen size; Shakti‘s climax had a lasting effect on Joginder (he calls the 1982 film a new release).
The actors talk in a mix of Hindi and English; the best lines are in Hindi. Vinay Pathak’s essaying of Bharat Bhushan in Bheja Fry film has made such a dent on me, I was taken aback to hear him speak English so fluently – and yet he sounds more in command when he switches to Hindi. His stories in The Blue Mug have the greatest energy and mischief – the take-off on his crazy uncle is priceless! Sheeba Chaddha is another terrific actress. She slips into any role like she was meant to play that and no other.
The actors come together on stage in the last few minutes. The memories recalls gradually condense to one-liners, there is overlap of immediate memories with old ones, there is a blur till we in the audience aren’t sure which is which.
I know many who did not enjoy The Blue Mug too much. If you are looking for a cohesive plot, you will likely be disappointed. According to director Atul Kumar, the play has no fixed script – the actors are free to improvise from show to show. This may come across as self-indulgent; besides, not every memory of another person is as interesting to the audience as the other. If you can engage with each piece on its own, and find some anchors in them for your own memories, you will surely be moved. You will also find yourself being thankful for the gift of remembrance.
 Some things never change. Vicco Vajradanti ads that came up in the interval of Jyoti Bane Jwala, still run in the interval of Delhi Belly.
 Now listening to Hemant Kumar’s Zindagi Pyar Ki Do Char Ghadi Hoti Hai , the song that plays in the background whenever the scene switches to Joginder – as if to say, life isn’t counted by its length but by the moments of love that fill it.