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Friday, August 17, 2012

Cast: Abhay Manas, Arjun Fauzdar, Keshav Moodliar, Kriti Pant, Shekhar Murugan, Sonam Sharma
Director: Avijit Dutta
Playwright: Aditya Sudarshan
On Friday, Aditya Sudarshan’s The Green Room, winner of the Metro Plus Playwright Award 2011, was staged at the Metro Plus Theatre Festival in Madras. You expect an award-winning play to be good. As it unfolded, I found myself wishing repeatedly that the production had been better. That the lovely lines had found better expression. That each of the characters, so carefully crafted, had been better portrayed.
The first scene treads somewhat familiar territory – an actor’s angst after a performance, while a friend who’s involved in the production tries to relate, empathise, and cheer her up. In this case, the actor is Anamika, a pretty woman who dreamt of being India’s own Vivien Leigh, but is stuck doing Indianised versions of plays set in Manhattan – that makes for a very nice in-joke in an audience largely drawn from theatre. The friend is Malik, a Delhi rich kid – the nouveau riche nice guy who desperately wants to be into art, but isn’t quite made for it. And they’re dating, because she’s the hot chick from college, and he’s the nice guy who waited for her relationship with the cool dude to end.
The play really begins when he leaves. We’re shown little flashes of what Anamika’s dreams were, of how they were thwarted, altered, or encouraged by the people she met. And then, a 23-year-old theatre enthusiast, as idealistic as he is cynical, walks in. He is Feroz – he claims he’s a fan of Anamika’s, she calls him a stalker. In a sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes realistic conversation, we’re drawn into a conflict that most of us with a love for the arts, and the accompanying, somewhat grandiose, sense of social consciousness have faced.
In short, the script is brilliant. Many of the lines are delicious. The drama is in the tension between characters. Sadly, this means the play needs very good actors. Actors who make us believe they’re as real as us – a line in the play points out that each of us is self-obsessed to such a degree that we find it hard to believe everyone else is as real as we are. And Yatrik’s production falls short on this count.
The best execution of a role would be that of Malik – the actor’s accent, expression, and body language typified that of a Delhi boy who has the money, but not the sophistication, to live out his dream. His dream is an intelligent woman whom he loves, whom he longs to make a star. His dream is to belong to that elite group of intellectuals, whose elitism stems from their intelligence, exposure, awareness and knowledge, not from money.
The actor who plays Feroz lives his role in bursts of passion – there were times when he carried lines quite wonderfully, but his body language when he made his entry (a series of gestures that appeared to indicate his hands are itching to touch the sleeping Anamika) was at odds with his bent of mind and his apparent class.
The biggest disappointment was the lead actor herself – she looks the part, but fails to strike a chord with the audience. Her dialogues, especially in her interaction with Feroz, are so well-written that it often surprised me to think they were penned by a man – the little things that most women find offensive, like an assumption of familiarity, come through subtly. So does the struggle-of-sorts that most women face when they’re confronted with a choice between the pragmatic and sensible, and the dashing and idealistic paths. The actor took the lines in a whiny tone that made it hard to like Anamika. It didn’t help that she was trying to Indianise an American accent, or less likely, the converse. I found myself wondering how a young Shernaz Patel would have dealt with the character, what life an actor of her calibre could have brought into a role of this sort.
The scene between Feroz and Anamika needs to be calibrated skilfully to be believable. It didn’t quite build up as it should, and I suspect some lines were either forgotten or taken poorly. I did enjoy a little aside on floppy disks – a reminder of the late nineties – and quite moved by the fervour with which the actor playing Feroz took a particularly powerful soliloquy on what theatre can do, and why he believes in it. But the energy falls, and what could have been a charming moment of irony – involving which film the characters remember Vivien Leigh from – falls flat, only drawing a few titters from a section of the audience that didn’t see it coming.
The smaller characters – an ex-boyfriend, a theatre critic and a socialite-type – were abysmal. Honestly, how hard can it be to find three actors with normal accents, who can pronounce ‘boudoir’ correctly?  The problem when people who aren’t comfortable with English do English theatre is: (a) They fake accents (b) They focus so hard on getting the words right that they are unable to emote or pace their lines. This was exacerbated by painfully long gaps between scenes, and several lighting goof-ups.
There are some parts of the play that are something of a stretch – how many stage actors have managers in India, one might ask, for instance. But that’s forgivable in the larger context – when the ‘manager’ is in love with the actor, one might respond. The disillusionment with Delhi’s pettiness doesn’t really ring true for me – because there are many Delhis, and for every housewife who goes to the market next door in her husband’s chauffeured ‘Oddy’, there’s a group of people making politically incorrect jokes in Khan Market; for every girl who scrutinises a man’s family tree before going out on a date with him, there’s a group of bleeding-heart liberals organising protests at JNU; for every man who drops five names a minute, there’s someone fasting for some sententious cause in Jantar Mantar; and most people who shop at South Ex have also eaten at Paranthewali Gali. But there is the Delhi the play speaks of too, and it’s relatable when one sees it as Middle India, rather than Delhi Mentality.


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