Salman Rushdie, in his critically undervalued The Ground Beneath her Feet coined acronym HUG-ME for languages that everyone in Bombay was familiar with.
He says, “Bombayites like me were people who spoke five languages badly and no language well.” The languages were (are?) Hindi Urdu Gujarati Marathi and English.
A Bombay where we all understood these five languages, could speak four, read at least three, and write in two.
This was the quintessential Bombay – a Bombay that now probably lives only in the diaspora outside India.
Jasmine and Nitin Sawant of the Sawitri Group are of that lost generation who live a Bombay that exists only in the imagination.
The Sawitri Group have made a great contribution to the theatre scene in Toronto by staging Mahesh Dattani’s plays. Periodically, they also stage plays that capture the Bombay of the past, Bombay that is lost.
A while back, the group staged Sai Paranjape’s सख्खे शेजारी, and earlier this week, the group staged Madhu Rye’s popular Gujarati play કાય પણ ઍક ફૂલ નુ નાં બોલો તો.
Rye’s play is a whodunit with an unexpected and unconventional dénouement that nearly five decades after it was first staged, retains its freshness. More than anything else, it’s a play about the Bombay of yore, a Bombay that could hold in its imagination a woman like Kamini Desai, the stage actor who is willing to suffer a lifetime of oblivion behind bars just to revel in a moment of narcissist wish fulfilment.
It’s a play that is in many ways a period piece. For instance, it cannot but raise eyebrows at the various dalliances between its main characters. Yet in many other ways it is timeless. For instance, Deshpande’s blackmailing of Jyotsna’s husband that he would publish a calendar of her (presumably nude) photographs if he didn’t pay him a hefty sum has a resonance even five decades later. Rehtaeh Parson’s suicide is a tragic example from the present times.
The play examines the fluidity as well as the hypocrisy of relationship, and realistically questions the basis of most relationships – husband-wife, brother-sister, writer-producer, writer-actor, between actors, between lovers, between colleagues.
In a distinctly multilinear manner (cubist in treatment of the plot but without cubism's invasiveness), it examines a murder from the point of view of different characters, and probes the psychology of guilt that surfaces in each of the characters as they question their own motives.
Theatre is an actor’s medium, and Naimesh Nanavaty, a theatre veteran, understands this perfectly. His direction is subdued and non-intrusive, as he allows controlled freedom to all his actors, who without exception give a superlative performance, with Shruti Shah (Kanta Patel, Kamini Desai), and Nanavaty (Keshav Thaker) himself standing out for making it look easy and natural.
Sampradaya’s space enables intimacy between the performers and the audience, breaking down the barrier that a conventional stage otherwise imposes. It enhances the appreciation of the craft that is theatre.
That intimacy was highlighted by Joseph Pagnan’s lighting design, especially during the interrogation of each character, and attaining heartbreaking poignancy when tears well up the playwright’s (Nanavaty) eyes.
It was an evening well spent.