Do you know that feeling when you’re eating a dish with relish, in leisured bite sizes, when someone jogs your elbow and the last spoonful you were all set to savour drops to the floor?
Much of my Full Meals experience was like that. But let me begin at the beginning.
The deal is a series of six mini-plays, cushioned with short acts by a pair of actors in imaginative roles (dead superheroes to restaurant waiters to statues in a park!). The mini-plays stand by themselves without interlinks, only the actors get shared.
Most of the mini-plays start with a blast. The first, Love and Lightning, has the surefire hit formula of a Jab We Met – OTT bubbly female meets no-nonsense uninterested bloke and chatters her way into his heart. But while Jab We Met takes its time for the shift in the guy’s stance to be plausible, the airport guy does a volte-face before you can say Jack Robinson. Funny one-liners, great rhythm – but ultimately a bit of a let down.
Toll Free Professional has a most interesting premise – man in intimate conversation with an IVR. The best moment of Full Meals – the automated voice compressing the man’s lengthy monologue to a country’s name. I wish the IVR had built upon that line further; as it stands that is a throwaway without further context.
Reminiscent of Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth, Everybody Needs Help has “God” talking to a disbelieving psychiatrist. “God” slips in his identity so nonchalantly you don’t see it coming till a moment later. A brilliant touch, that. Here too, the act falters at its end – the beat at the last line is held on a shade too long.
I suspect that a lot of Full Meals might have been sharper and shinier on paper than on stage. In the Tom-and-Jerry-isque sequence with orchestra conductors, for example, the well-conceived segue between the theme tunes of Mohabbatein and the Old Spice advert felt tame in execution. It’s a new cast and well, you can see that it’s new. Exception for two superb actors here – Kalyani and Prashanth Nair. Prashanth Nair was such a ripping autowallah that if he stepped out of Alliance Française looking and talking like that, someone would surely have asked him "Jayanagar barthira?".
The story of the reluctant soldier left me cold. I was reminded of how powerfully Hardy’s The Man He Killed captures the same dilemma. Why go far – Lt. Dharamvir from JP Dutta’s film Border does a more convincing job of it. Perhaps the serious tone of this act did not fit in with the light-heartedness of the rest of Full Meals, plus there simply wasn’t the time to tackle it effectively.
The crux is that there was too much going on. The two actors who came in between the mini-acts, funny as they were, didn’t act as connectors or narrators – they did independent stuff. In a sense there weren’t six short acts but double the number. Cricket and terrorism and telemarketing and immigrants in Bangalore and I wondered, how would it have been had Tahatto thought of fleshing out any one idea into a long play – Bangalore through the eyes of its auto-drivers? A full-length romcom about a mismatched couple at the airport? I might have preferred that, I think, to the touch-and-go style we got to see.
So this isn’t a Bangalore-style "full meals", more a buffet lunch at a multi-cuisine restaurant. I lade my plate, eat my fill and leave with the thought "The lasagna was great and so was the rasam. If only the two hadn’t run into each other."