One on One is a glimpse of contemporary India through ten short plays. It is an example of how critiquing the state doesn’t always have to be an angry affair. A look at India through monologues and duologues could be tedious to sit through– one can’t help but expect a lot of tear jerker patriotic drama spiced generously with condemnation of the state machinery. One on One however steers clear from impassioned deliveries about the duties of a citizen/lawmaker towards his/her country and conveys itself in a far more engaging style.
The play begins with ‘The Bureaucrat’, a piece written by Anuvab Pal in which Anand Tiwari, Neil Bhoopalam and Bugs Bhargava play the different stages in the life of one bureaucrat. Directed by Kunaal Roy Kapoor, The Bureaucrat is a glimpse at the changing role of bureaucracy between the 50s to the present day. While the actors put up a decent performance, the play is largely driven by its farcical script. The Bureaucrat acts as a perfect ice-breaker that draws the audience in.
One on One glides next into the tale of a deceased bodyguard. Directed by Rajit Kapoor, Kachre Ki Hifaazad is performed by Yashpal Sharma who recounts his death in an unfortunate incident when fulfilling his duty as the Chief Minister’s bodyguard. Yashpal, who rises from under his shroud and narrates the incident in a tongue in cheek style, gives life to writer Ashok Mishra’s take on the divides in the Indian society. And yet I found myself drifting more than once. A few minutes into the piece, the script seemed to stretch further than it needed to, filling itself with the Chief Minister’s gimmicks, some of which were far too cliché.
As the evening continued the fare provided further diversified through a unique treatment to the same old matters of the state. The sarcastic humour continued with ‘Load Shedding’, written by lawyer-writer Farhad Sorabjee and directed by Nadir Khan. Load Shedding is a monologue by a lamp post on a momentous day in its life when it is to be named after ABC – the leader of the ruling party. My favourite piece of the evening, ‘Load Shedding’ builds on Anand’s ability to draw laughs from hackneyed politician bashing and cheeky lines and comes to an abrupt halt, questioning our priorities as a nation. Clearly, the concept of using humour to drive in a point works to the tee.
A rather interesting take on identity of a citizen is ‘The Interrogation’ written by Shiv Subrahmanyam. As an Indian who has lost all her identification papers, Anu Menon plays a distraught young widow caught within the system. Bugs Bhargava plays tormentor by alternating between the several officers and bureaucrats who question the citizen. There are glimpses of cynicism highlighted by silly questions the interrogators ask (‘No papers? Where were you when Indira Gandhi was shot?’). By recreating a dimly lit room, the play lets the audience comprehend the victim’s sense of bewilderment. However, it felt like director Rahul da Cunha was grappling with the content of the script as the situation moves from broken dreams, the victim’s past, the frivolity of police and policies without relating one incident to another. Inevitably, despite the promising start it is hard not to feel let down as the piece fast forwards through the script without reaching any particular conclusion.
One on One also has some interesting portrayals of people who constitute India. One of the most moving pieces in the play was Aabodana, written by Purva Naresh and directed by Akarsh Khurana. Anand Tiwari and Preetika Chawla play two migrants who present different opinions about the city. A heartwarming piece, Aabodana’s draw comes mainly from its Romantic dialogues. As they alternate between their stories, the characters seem to be two individuals who are building towards an encounter with each other. When the piece ends with a brief meeting between the two, it fades into its namesake song by Gulzar which, with its wistful lyrics and cheery melody reflects the tone of the piece itself. With a perfect combination of words, sound and staging, the director brings out the humane side of living within a metropolis.
Another aesthetically done piece is ‘Creado, Constance’. A story of a 64 year old widow who finds love by mere chance, this piece is adapted (and directed) by Arghya Lahiri from the play ‘Bombshells’ written by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. Shernaz Patel as Constance gives a glimpse into the life of the lonely widow who fall's in love with a much younger man. The piece gets its light heartedness because of Constance's acceptance of a chance occurrence in her otherwise mundane life. Its mellowness of the piece is enhanced by the use of light that encompasses Constance with a warm glow as she speaks about her own desires. It’s kind of sad though that everything to do with a woman feeling liberated has to be about sex – be it the well acclaimed Vagina Monologues or pieces of trashy chick lit. Really, is it only a man’s hard throbbing thingamajig that can save a woman from a wasted life?
Again as a widow coping with her loneliness, Shernaz plays a darker role in ‘White on White’. This one is a sharp u-turn from the mellow ‘Creado Constance’ with a stark monologue that explores the chemistry between two women in a household from the perspective of a bitter lonely widow. Written by Maia Katrak and directed by Pushan Kriplani, this one explores the widow’s need to attach herself to her son. Though Shernaz plays the widow as a resentful woman, the piece also manages to establish the widow’s loneliness.
Quite unlike the intense pieces is ‘Dear Richard’, adapted by Akarsh Khurana and Nadir Khan from a letter by Oliver Beale to Richard Branson. Rajit Kapoor plays the flier who is angered by the unpalatable food he is served during the course of a flight. Rajit’s sense of comic timing teamed with a picture by picture description of all the strange concoctions served during the flight adds some slapstick humour that left the audience in peals of laughter.
‘Bash’, an adaptation of Neil LaBute’s play by Rahul da Cunha (also the director) starts out with an introduction of a couple who seem like caricatures of themselves. Neil Bhoopalam and Preetika Chawla manage rather well to bring out the vacuousness of the couple even when they are setting the stage for something a little more intense. When Preetika first remarks on the gay couple they saw at Marine Drive, she creates a sense of foreboding. As the piece progresses though, her presence grows weak, to a point where you wonder if the director could have made it much stronger as a monologue. As Neil recalls the incident, he recreates a character who is still deeply charged with the incidents of the night even as the consequences of his action may still be sinking in. Based on an incident replete with anger and passion, 'Bash' is a thought provoking piece that sheds light on how unnecessary hate crimes can be.
The final story is ‘Instant Behosh’, about a Pakistani terrorist Karim Rehman Rasool Bin Laden played by Amit Mistry. Written and directed by Rahul da Cunha, this piece is replete with anti-Pakistan jokes like this one instance where he calls terrorism his country’s only esteemed profession. The audience seemed highly amused by these wisecracks that haven’t been heard in a long time anywhere other than on hate sites – perhaps a sign that we are all a little weary of our neighbours’ growing infiltration post 26/11. Amit manages to fit right into the role of the bumbling terrorist and his gimmics raise more than a few laughs. Politically incorrect comments aside, Rahul Da Cunha manages to capture his disgruntlement with reality shows and pampered. Other than that, the play brings together some divergent writers and directors whose styles add variety to the evening’s programme without making it seem schizoid.
While there are some pieces that could have fared better, as a play in general, One on One provides a tight package. The fact that the serious plays are often juxtaposed in between lighter ones makes sure that the evening won’t be a grueling one for theatre goers even though it is definitely a thought provoking one.