#UncomfortableActs: Mumbai Vs Mumbai

Posted on 10 April, 2017 by Team Wishberry

How do you drive home your point about blind capitalistic opportunism ruling the roost in today’s world? More importantly, how do you drive home this fact in front of an audience that is, perhaps, the biggest consumer of the capitalistic ‘dream’? Well, I know how Zubin Driver, did it at the Cuckoo Club on April 8. He used hashtags (in the information pamphlet), and a language easily understood by the audience, issues that they encounter but choose to oversee, and of course ‘play’.

Mumbai Vs Mumbai left me with a problem — I was sold on the idea, but some of its execution left me asking for more.

This review of Mumbai Vs Mumbai will not get into summarizing the plot, for the play has been staged umpteen times and has been talked of so very often in the media. What this review seeks to unearth is why the play is so, so relevant as well as important in today’s day and age.

A middle-aged man is stuck in a rut, in a loop that he perhaps created for himself — horsepower, torque, tyre, engine, combustion, exhaust... horsepower, torque, tyre, engine, combustion, exhaust... horsepower, torque, tyre, engine, combustion, exhaust  — he is at his wit’s end; road rage translates into a deep-rooted psychological upheaval that he is faced with; every day, day after day, like the machine, the car, that is both his confidante and his nemesis — “casual evil”.

‘Freaky Boy’ talks of consumerism; how, so very often, we as consumers, think we have a choice but our choices are, alas, the result of careful data analysis — that phone you bought for your birthday? — You didn’t exactly choose it; it was chosen for you. You are a pattern, information that is being constantly mined, so that the coffer of the mammoth corporate entity (ultimately nameless and faceless; ultimately an idea, a propaganda) is filled with your free will as well as your monies — you are another “brick in the wall”.

Then there is silence — a stillness that cloaks most of us in this mad, mad city of Mumbai. You have encountered this still peace and so have I — perhaps when staring out of the window of your high-rise apartment at 2 in the morning; restless; when sleep becomes a luxury. Or perhaps in the not-so-hygienic waters of Mumbai’s beaches — ‘this city giveth as it taketh’.

Time out...

Just as you think that Mumbai Vs Mumbai as a play has probably witnessed its tide and is waiting for its ebb, you encounter a showman — an anchor-man who welcomes you into his dreary, dreary world of “nothing” — Modern entertainment that is made up of “nothingness”, art that speaks about “nothing” and creativity that creates “nothing”. It is a scathing critique of media and how it fills spaces, living rooms, malls, sports bars and smartphones with a skeleton of what could have been, maybe sometime in the past, information or entertainment. It is an apt part of a play that seeks to present your beloved Mumbai in a new light but which speaks of an old tale — the razzle-dazzle of entertainment, the so-called ‘media frenzy’, the infinitely lusted-after celebrity culture, are all vacuous ideals which are only good enough for one thing — to hoodwink the masses into believing that what they see in the 9PM news slot and in the ‘after hours’ music programmes, are a true reflection of what the society thinks and how it functions.

Is anyone ‘safe’ in the belching belly of the beautiful harpy that is Mumbai? — I did think that some are cocooned; that they are oblivious to the taste of bile that this ‘city’ living can induce in you — while you are on your way to work or even when sipping ‘insert fancy wine’s name’ at a fancy Bandra establishment. Enter Lopamudra Mohanty and ‘Devi’. This nameless housewife has a comfortable life — a husband who thinks of her as a ‘prized possession’ a plush house in what I can imagine is a upscale housing society and friends; other women in their track-pants and jogging shoes discussing their husbands’ take-home packages and their children’s achievements at school — there is also ‘devi’ within this city-dwelling housewife confined to her home — and when ‘devi’ is unleashed, the home becomes a temple where bells of rebellion endlessly toll, where little demons are conjured out of the baking oven and where ‘devi’ strips off her clothing and dances the dance of destruction, annihilation and ultimately, recreation. ‘Devi’ safeguards the housewife’s mental health, ‘devi’ provides her with an escape route and ‘devi’? — ‘Devi’ waits for her, inside her, waits for when the bored, disillusioned housewife is all alone, in the balmy Mumbai afternoons when the air is still because of the moisture and when emotions are most frayed — that is when ‘devi’ appears and coaxes the housewife into unshackling both her body and her mind.

Mumbai Vs Mumbai is gripping because of the way in which it has been written — it makes one feel short of breath, antsy and restless — yet some of the performances at the Cuckoo Club didn’t entirely do justice to it... Silence, portrayed by Shoumik Saxena, was supposed to be the calm before the storm of the second half, but it did falter — not the writing, but the performance. Another addition that seemed forcefully woven into the already complete narrative, were the musical interludes by Dennis Taraporewala. I had imagined Mumbai Vs Mumbai as a breathless act of play where I, as the audience, wouldn’t find any respite or a cathartic moment where I would sigh and say ‘Ok, this was all an act’.

I am glad that I could witness Mumbai Vs Mumbai. The minimalist setting (a chair and very few props such as a hat for the anchor-man and a kamarband and ghungroo for 'devi') is a daunting task for the actors but it really brings out the myriad shades that colour Mumbai Mumbai befuddles you, it attacks your very sanity and makes you want to scream out loud — it also makes you realize your true potential.

P.S.: In a rebellious move, when ‘Freaky Boy’ made everyone stand up for the ‘National March’, I stuck to my guns — gone are the days when I would be ‘forced’ into doing something that I didn’t actually want to ­do — not in my ‘Mumbai’.

All images courtesy Zubin Driver

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