The one epistolary play I have been to so far left me feeling mesmerized. It was Tumhari Amrita, played by stalwarts of the ‘real acting’ world, Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh.
This time again, it was Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah au pair, certainly no less promising. With Prithvi as the setting of Jerome Kilty’s play, Dear Liar, the evening held a lot of hope.
A word about the famous Prithvi: It’s cozy, extremely cozy, affording you a view of your actors from an arm’s length almost, seated if you are at the bottom front and side. Another amazing thing about this place is its regard for time. A minute late at Prithvi is a minute to late for the show. In that sense, Prithvi sends Indians on a short break from being themselves, and am saying this without being at all condescending. Sample this. 3 minutes before the play, we are bombarded with sounds of a cellphone ringing followed by those of gunshots being fired. The third time this plays out, all of us have made the Pavlovian connection… Just before we hear Naseeruddin Shah’s booming voice: Thank you for turning off your cellphones!
And then it began. Shaw’s and Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s portrait-sized photographs hung on either side of the stage. In the foreground on-stage, a writing desk, a hat box, a chair in one corner. Enter Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, him, looking like a much shorter version of George Bernard Shaw, the beard firmly in place, and she, in a gold laced dress in ballroom flair, bell-sleeves and all (albeit a tacky, poor cousin of ballroom dresses anyway).
Jerome Kilty’s compilation is a skilled one, largely speaking, but I believe in the Indian version, or shall we say the Motley (Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group is thus named) version is quite devoid of the accent, which would prop up their verrry English characters. It is one thing I missed sorely. And especially from Ms. Shah. At times it felt as if she was channeling her inimitable and excellent character of Maya Sarabhai from Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. I just lurrrrrv that show so much!
But yes, Mrs. Pat (as Mrs. Campbell was know among the English circles of her time), was an understudy to Maya Sarabhai last evening. It jarred a bit. Because, I have seen Naseeruddin Shah in Einstein, balancing his persona on that German accent quite well indeed. I believe it absolutely possible for him to pull off G B Shaw from that point of view. I wonder if he held himself back.
As for the play, yes in moments it was touching, in moments it was just passable. Probably the greatest thing about it was actually watching Naseer and Ratna Shah together on stage. And they do have a chemistry. What truly amazed me was their ability to memorize those lines to perfection.
Also, Prithvi makes everything delightful. Something about that place.
There were questions in my mind aplenty, however. The letters mark a strong, intimate relationship GBS had with this enchantress as he liked to call her, Mrs. Pat. She was his Stella and he, her Joey (she named him so after a clown). The passion is there, and there are moments of laughter too: “When you were a little boy, someone should have said ‘hush’ to you once”, said she to he.
What amazes me about that time in that part of the century that this correspondence and subsequent time it does under the spotlight of stage does great disservice to Stella. She couldn’t spell right, or write well, she wasn’t of an intellectual bent of mind and all that jazz. But for the fact that GBS was mad about her. So much that of his numerous such affairs, she was the only person who came close to threatening his marriage.
You see, while there’s a lot of scrutiny about her intellectual capacity, there’s very little about his. Intellectual prowess is perhaps not only about writing well, and taking stands on various subjects of politics or philosophy, of course literature. It is, perhaps, also about sensitivity and fealty. Anyway, much has been said about that by John Osbourne, that fierce critic of GBS.
All in all, a fine evening in the heart of Mumbai. Got back home loaded with thoughts, words, and reflection. Which is huge!
PS: And this cat didn’t get to watch the play because it was running to full house.