Rehearsals, rehearsals and more rehearsals! Thank God for the Diwali break. But even as I say that, I know I miss my cast as also the excitement of rehearsing a new play, one that I am directing.
This is precisely the reason why I moved to the big fat city, so that I can do some theatre and work with dedicated actors. An outsider's perspective of Mumbai is the theme of my new play, The Big Fat City. Life in Mumbai has its colourful moments as well as its challenges. Several writers and filmmakers have captured their perspectives on this chaos-polis, but the city with all its multiple realities defies description. Which is why writers will continue to offer different interpretations.
My play is peopled with aspiring young actors, fading TV stars and a mid-career professional couple who are leading a lifestyle they can no longer afford. They have one objective in common—to survive in this city with a smile. Except on one muggy night, murder and mayhem take over their lives and they are caught in a web of deceit and despair.
It all began a couple of years ago when producer Ashvin Gidwani and I were chatting about living in Mumbai. I felt I had lived in the city long enough to write a play on it. Ashvin loved the idea and the project got a green light.
One thing that has always annoyed me about modern living is the importance people give to cell phones. In cities, it is perfectly okay to interrupt a conversation to answer your cell phone. Also, the fascination with text messaging that young people have astounds me. My oft-repeated joke is that the next generation will be born with a cell phone instead of a left palm. It struck me that if I were to write a play about my time, it would mean including cell phone usage in the plot. So in the play, I have people text messaging their feelings to the audience. These messages are projected on an LED screen so the audience knows what the character is thinking while the other characters on stage don't. Might as well embrace what I detest most about urban lifestyles.
The cast brings to their roles their own Mumbai experiences. Sonal Joshi, a talented young actor, plays the role of a small-town girl aspiring to be a movie actress. On reading the script, Sonal exclaimed that she could relate to the problems the character faces in the city, such as finding accommodation. Single women, especially actors, find it difficult to rent a flat, as most housing societies are wary after the Maria Susairaj scandal.
Among the experienced actors, I have Achint Kaur playing an ageing TV actress. Achint has a wealth of television work to her credit, so she could easily find role models to base the character on. Some actors are born for the stage and Achint is one of them.
Nasir Khan, again a TV actor primarily, instinctively speaks the language of the stage with great facility. His comic timing is impeccable, perhaps a legacy of his late father, the legendary screen actor Johnny Walker.
Ivan Rodrigues, Pooja Ruparel, Vinay Sharma, Shashi Bhushan, Aadar Malik and Gagan Sethi form the rest of my team. I couldn't have asked for a better cast.
The NCPA in association with Ashvin Gidwani has invited us to the festival Centre Stage in December. We chose this for our opening performance.
Truly, life in this city can be exciting when things are going right for you. If they are not, living in the city can be a perpetual nightmare as the characters in my play discover. Ultimately, my play is about survival, and when the odds are against them, it is interesting to see what values urbanites hang on to and what they readily give up.