> Dolly Thakore's 'Life in the Theatre'


At almost every turn these last few weeks one has been asked one’s opinion on ‘KENNEDY BRIDGE’ – the new opulent production written and directed by film journalist-turned-story writer-turned-film director-turned-playwright Khalid Mohammed who has emerged in his new avtar as  theatre director for the first time. It is refreshingly courageous that Khalid Mohammad  captures his childhood experiences and memories on celluloid and stage.
For some of us Kennedy Bridge is certainly a touching piece of history of the city where courtesans contributed to the cultural milieu and were an integral part of the Bombay landscape. And Khalid gives us a closer look and an insight into the lives of the people who inhabited those rooms draped in velvet curtains and carpets in a bygone era. He lays bare their emotions, ambitions, longings, yearnings for a normal life of family and home, and love outside of drink, dance and seduction.
We are aware that cinema attracts a larger audience.

All over the world there have been attempts to impose/introduce cinema into theatre….hence the larger than life spectacular musicals and shows on Broadway and the West end – viz Saigon comes to mind immediately – where a helicopter descends on stage!
The multi-media projections on the backdrop  -- albeit a bit untidy – attempt to give Kennedy Bridge a real life ambience, perhaps to  establish the emotional chaos in the lives of the inhabitants;  and the motorcycle rider across the stage does come as a surprise.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of stage shows that are comparatively spectacular. Raell Padamsee’s ‘Sound of Music’, Shaimak Davar’s ‘Yes’ and ‘I Believe’, Vaibhavi Merchant’s ‘Taj Express’ extravaganzas that have film and television stars have smoothened the road to sponsors…and audiences.
Mere suggestions of a situation and location ala  Satyadev Dubey, Badal Sarkar, and others of that ilk offer parallel alternatives to hard-core theatre practitioners when producers are not forthcoming. And many “missed the wood for the trees” as it were!!!

Khalid is lucky in a producer like Ashvin Gidwani who has spent lavishly on sets and costumes….and how!. In fact, the frequent changes in costumes distracts and detracts, and is reminiscent of the Indian films of old where actors appeared in a changed costume at every twirl.

I do have a few observations on Kennedy Bridge as a piece of theatre. The stage certainly impresses.  And the opening sequence establishes the ambience. The story line remains emotionally strong, but needs a lot of editing to hold the show together. Theatre does not need to speak out every response and emotion.  Some of it is left to the viewers imagination. That is the magic of theatre.
After a Bollywood-type item number of some fifteen gyrating glittering dancers (one too many as the play progresses), Kennedy Bridge opens with Schezadi (Richa Chaddha) appearing on stage escorted by the eunuch Heera (Asif Ali Beg) after a reluctant abortion of her love-child, and the knowledge that she will never be able to conceive again. Her wailing screaming expletives at her brothel-mother  Chaandbi (Achint Kaur) establishes the raw crude lives imprisoned within those walls while elegance and poetry emanates from those same lips in the presence of a client!.
Schezadi’s respite for a few hours per day when she befriends another lonely lost soul (school boy Jahan);  and the bond that develops between the two till she abandons him to elope with her landed-gentry paramour. But the non acceptance and rejection by the  zamindari household drives her back to the Kotha…and the reversal of roles  where Schezadi takes over the running of the kotha after the death of Chaandbi;  and Schezadi introduces  another young virgin Ayesha to a similar life.
But all this takes ever so long to unfold.  And in this day of fast-forwards and crisp editing, many in the audience reported restlessness.
Establishing that the young girls were dancers who attracted their customers can be done in shorter sequences. Long outbursts by the protagonists ‘sag’ the play. The detail in the little realistic props – silver paan daan, and the padding for the older Schezadi’s derriere is impressive.
Actors Achint Kaur and Asif Ali Beg brought the stage alive each time they were on it. Richa will certainly develop as she goes along…and she had her good moments and came into her own in the last encounter with Jahan.. But she lacked grace and rhythm in the dance routines. The older Jahan Manav Gohil was a bit tiring as he kept popping in and out as a sutradhar -- particularly in the soliloquy – though he improved in the encounter with the older Schezadi, and his ‘Ma’ breakdown was sensitive and surprisingly unfilmy!.  But he needs projection and clarity.

In my personal view Kennedy Bridge needs a lot of crisp editing…. in the written word, dance titillation and costume changes!!

It is always difficult for a writer to edit his own work.  Perhaps, another Director would have salvaged Kennedy Bridge!