A review of Mumbai Nights
Script: Debashis Roy; Direction: Bratya Basu

Bratya Basu is a predator. He prowls about from stage to stage as mere mortals fall prey to the analogies, metaphors and uncomfortable questions he poses through his plays. Like he did right at the end of this one, when characters were introduced and they came on stage and broke into a free spirited jig. Only this time he walked in with a straight face, looked into the clustered darkness at the end of the auditorium still trying to catch its breath after the laugh riot and then suddenly broke into a jive that was both sudden and invigorating.

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From Winkle Twinkle, Hemlat to Boma he has quizzed us with philosophy, morality, crime and punishment. And then he dared to go a step further, walk into deep waters and shore up world of kitsch, allusions and potboilers that speaks plainly and stirs the veritable concoction of delight and dilemma within us.

Minerva Repertory Theatre’s Mumbai Nights, a theatrical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, has Bratya Basu breaking theatrical conventions, mores and grammar as he paints a picture both liberating and artistically rewarding.

The mounting is lavish; the ambience vicarious and content though predictable has been reinvented and spiced up with generous doze of Bollywood essence. Most characters are gross and deceitful and have a hidden motive. Duke Orsino becomes the Alishan Kulkarni, an illustrious Bollywood producer, while Viola and Sebastian become Huma and Asghar, both students from Pakistan separated by the Mumbai blasts of 2011. When Shakespeare meets Bollywood underworld has to find a way. Olivia is Ushnata ul Osmani, a D-Company boss’s sister, while Antonio, Sebastian’s saviour, is presented as the underboss of another gang.

With such a cracker of a setting sparks are bound to fly and it did with gay abandon as 30 odd actors set the packed auditorium into raptures with their rip-roaring moves, fluid jives and spontaneity. Basu deconstructed the stage with a live band that became an integral part of the plot, cardboard cut outs of Amitabh Bachchan and Godman, very ingeniously mocked at with an impromptu reference to Ram Rahim Singh, Rakesh Maria beaten silly, actors descending a la Sheela ki Jawani while blending it with liberal sprinkling of Mumbaiya dance and melodrama.

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Poof! What a confluence of colours, culture and couture.

The characters are unleashed upon the audience like bursts of arrows. The innocence of Huma is set against the worldly Ushnata, yet both are bound by the common thread of unconditional love. Rayati Basu (Huma) and Ananya Paul Bhattacharya (Ushnata) effortlessly slip into their characters, but the man who steals it all is Goutam Halder, with his lisps, facial distortion, over acting and freewheeling mimicry of all that can be good and decent. As Tikka Alam ala Malvolio, he is the sultan of the sub-plot. The vermin gang of beggars, corrupt servants and the lampooning guide or Sutradhar are at their belligerent best, as the play throws up poignant moments like the fate of bar dancers to the horror recap of Mumbai bombings, the socialism behind the pork and beef jab and presents the act of general perversion drowning in a shallow sea of love. At times we are confused whether we should laugh, cry, feel ashamed or just be swept away by the boisterous bounty of love.

Yet, Mumbai Nights as we saw it is not merely an exercise into excesses. Bratya successfully breaks down a romantic comedy into a social statement. Chaos and pandemonium flow through the play. Yet, somewhere you feel anchored by the faith that good will prevail. There is complete estrangement, yet the dots are united like islands in the sun. The reality of fun and profanity blends into the larger reality of social awakening.

In structure and style, Bratya sets a new benchmark for Bengali theatre to follow; the script of Debashis Roy sheds inhibitions and breaks free from straight-jacketed norms. Mumbai a city that never sleeps is bound to give sleepless nights as we see Bengali theatre finally mature.