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Friday, May 29, 2020

When Bollywood met Banaras

Mohit Takalkar on his play, Mosambi Narangi, tickling the funny bone and the art of doing nothing in Varanasi.

Written by Dipanitha Nath | Published: October 30, 2019 12:23:55 am
When Bollywood met Banaras Ajeet Singh Palawat plays the flamboyant character Narangi and Rajit Kapur, the quieter Mosambi.

After Chaheta, a grim play on a family in conflict, and Medium Spicy, a film on universal relationships, this year, Mohit Takalkar was exhausted. “When Rage Productions approached me with a light-hearted play, I jumped at it for the sake of my mental health,” says Takalkar. The play, Mosambi Narangi, is a part of Aadyam, a theatre initiative of the Aditya Birla Group, and will be staged at Delhi’s Kamani auditorium on November 2 and 3.

An adaptation of an Irish play, Stones in His Pockets, Mosambi Narangi revolves around events that take place when a film crew arrives in a village in Varanasi. For the locals, Mosambi and Narangi, this seems like a golden ticket to tinsel town. The former has returned from Mumbai and is captivated by the beauty of the film’s leading lady, Sabrina. Narangi, on the other hand, has written a film script that, he believes, will catapult him into superstardom and has closed down his shop. When the two land roles as extras in the film, the glamorous world of Bollywood confronts the rural ways of Varanasi, and the play takes off on a ride through a maze of situational comedy, slapstick, corny one-liners and rib-ticklers.

Takalkar, between productions, is on duty as a chef at Barometer, a resto-pub in Pune that he runs with friends. The aesthetics of theatre reflect in the interiors. On the raw, grey walls, a Charlie Chaplin film is projected during lunch and dinner. “Charlie is playing pathos, not comedy and not many people realise this,” says Takalkar, and adds, “I had come into Mosambi Narangi, thinking, ‘Kuchh halka, mast comedy karte hai’. And then, it started giving me sleepless nights. I realised that it is very easy to plant jokes, but very difficult to carve characters out of seeming caricatures.”

Takalkar’s oeuvre of 32 plays ranges from Main Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai, a study of relationships during strife, to Mathemagician, a tale of a slave in ancient Babylon, who, castrated as a child, rises to be the protege of the chief economist before falling into the depths of hubris. Mosambi Narangi is the first time that Takalkar is working with comedy. It is also the first time that the director, who won five awards at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards in 2016 for Main Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai, has not chosen a script but has been commissioned one.

“When I read the English script, I found it flimsy. It had all the cliches and caricatures you can think of. What I enjoyed was the writing of the play in Hindi by Ashok Mishra. He is from the film industry. His treatment of Bollywood in the script was authentic. He is also from Varanasi, so the language rings true, and the words he has used, the food he has mentioned and the clothes that he has described are alive,” says Takalkar. For the first 15 days of the rehearsal, however, Takalkar could not concentrate. “That changed one day when we were exploring Mosambi and Narangi, and a boy called Sonu revealed himself in the script and seemed to tell me, ‘This is not Mosambi or Narangi’s story; it is my story’. That was a hook point for me.”

Rachel D’Souza and Ashish Mehta have designed the sets and that the play opens with filming materials, such as boxes, cables, ladders, skimmers and lights strewn on stage between glimpses of Varanasi’s quintessential wooden platforms and cane umbrellas. Takalkar brings in his memories of the city, which he first saw in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and visited in 2003. “Every day, I would wake up at 5 am and follow the sound of an aarti or bhajan happening somewhere. After that, I did nothing. I just sat on the ghats,” he says.

Mosambi Narangi brings together Rajit Kapur, who acted in Takalkar’s 2014 film The Bright Day, and Ajeet Singh Palawat, the lead of Main Huun Yusuf Aur Ye Hai Mera Bhai. “Ajeet plays the flamboyant character Narangi and has the lines where people crack up and clap. Rajit is Mosambi and can play the smallest emotion in a full-bodied way that is a pleasure to watch,” says Takalkar.

Does Mosambi Narangi make Takalkar laugh? “We have added silly humour. Narangi is involved in a lot of mimicry and imitates everyone from Dev Anand to Anil Kapoor, which people enjoy. The play is intended to remain in one’s subconscious for some time. I hope people will say, ‘Kal shaam bahut maza aaya. Kya pagal the who dono’ and, then, wonder, ‘What exactly were the two trying to do?’ The pinch of the play is that the duo wants to do something. They just don’t now how to do it. That’s the point I want to make.”

Mosambi Narangi will be staged at Kamani auditorium, Delhi, on November 2 and 3, at 4 and 7.30 pm. Tickets on

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