Every evening this month, against the pitch dark cave-like backdrop created on stage at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi, a genie with an athletic body and full-length blue bodysuit erupts from a ball of smoke. As opposed to the fat, stout and bald-headed genie from the classic tale, who helps Aladdin woo Princess Jasmine, this one jumps with joy from one corner of the stage to another. Essaying the role is actor Mantra Mugdh, whose real name is Puranjit Dasgupta.
When Aladdin, played by Siddharth Menon and Taaruk Raina in the musical, tells the genie that he will grant the latter freedom, Mugdh joyfully responds, “I will also get freedom. I will also do a 9-5 job like others. I will also get stuck in the Noida-Gurgaon traffic jam. Wow.” Calling his new role the most challenging so far, the 34-year-old Mumbai actor says, “Someone said that this is the fittest genie ever and I am happy to take that as a compliment. When director Shruti Sharma was casting me, I asked her, ‘Isn’t a genie a big, burly and wobbly guy?’ She said, ‘Who said?’ That’s why we had our own version. Now, people will imagine a fit genie.” He has lost six kgs playing the active genie.
Disney’s Aladdin has had multiple theatrical adaptations in countries such Australia, the US, the UK and New Zealand. While Ravi Acharya has written the dialogues, Mugdh says he lends his own twist to the original. When Alladin asks the genie where he is from, the actor offers a different reply every time — Munirka, Kalkaji or Karol Bagh. “Even Aladdin doesn’t know, which area I am going to say tomorrow (laughs),” he says. For the Mumbai audience, his response is, “Antilia”, Mukesh Ambani’s home.
Mugdh has played mythical characters before, including Brahmarakshas, a spirit from the cosmic world, which he essayed as a 14-year-old in his first school production in Indore, inspired by Girish Karnad’s Agni aur Barkha. He has trained at the London International School of Performing Arts in London as well as Barry John’s Imago Institute in Delhi. Mugdh has been spotted in films such as Tum Mile, Bheja Fry 2 and London Paris New York, apart from High Jack, in which he steps into the role of a hijacker. He has been a part of several plays, including Sohaila Kapur’s Ouch, Divya Arora’s The Melody of Love and Atul Kumar’s Piya Behrupiya. The actor, who has also had a successful stint as a radio jockey, took on the name Mantra Mugdh when he was on
radio in 2000.
He says, “I have been a performer always, be it on radio, television, theatre or films. The medium kept on changing and I always believe that a good actor and a good performer is one who acts according to the situation he is in. I love a live audience more than facing the camera and there is a reason I do a lot more of theatre.” His tryst with acting, that “came naturally to him”, can be traced back to his roots. His mother, Chandra Dasgupta, was a child actor in Kolkata and also appeared in Hindi cinema.
The play has iconic songs from the classic Academy Award-winning film Aladdin, such as Prince Ali, Arabian nights and Friend like me. Mugdh says his biggest challenge “has to be singing and dancing”. “I would like to emphasise that what people see in Bollywood films is fake. The actors don’t sing and dance. Growing up, I would watch Prabhu Deva dancing and singing at the same time and would wonder how he did it. Later, I got to know it was lip sync. On stage, it is physically challenging and I am, often, out of breath.” Clearly, working magic on stage is no child’s play.