“Kasturba Panda ki Pantie” is a must-watch for Farhad Colabavala’s acting
I could list the flaws in the play, but that wouldn’t present an accurate account of the scene at Akshara Theatre in New Delhi when “Kasturba Panda ki Pantie” was staged. There are houseful shows and there are houseful shows. There are also shows for which one wouldn’t expect a full house, but the crowds still come. This is particularly surprising for a play that is doing its second run, on a Rs. 400 ticket.
If anything, the play is an exhibition of Farhad Colabavala’s acting skills. Farhad, a strapping young gentleman by day, turns into a demure “aunty ji” on stage for one-and-a-half hours. In a red-bordered white sari, Farhad does voices, jumps animatedly like a stunt performer and even fakes an orgasm. He also plays Kasturba’s husband — a stereotypical beer guzzling and staunchly patriarchal man.
The audience laps up everything Farhad does — be it the explicit sexual jokes or flirting with tenants, who are also played by Farhad. What’s most amazing in this farce is that while you are in the hall, and for a while after you step out, it is completely believable. All the characters, though played by the same cross-dressed actor, are absolutely real. The excellent stage play is enough atonement for flaws like Punjabi-sounding characters with Odia names and the new-English-learner accent from a character who claims she’s from Welham Girls’.
The soundtrack by Ritwik De complements the performance well, as do the lights by Gopal Verma and Rakesh Palisetty. The Rakesh-Gopal duo is particularly agile at the lights. As Farhad switches between characters the lights change and move to his groove. In the beautiful wooden hall, the play with lights is pure art, enjoyable by itself.
The plot, however, adapted from Steve Martin’s “The Underpants”, is disjointed in parts. For example, the Bengali tenant character doesn’t seem to have been given much thought. He is funny and carries on rudderless, a mere addition that could have been much more than the loose tape to tie up a conclusion.
The trio: director Madhav Mehta, assistant director Akash Mehta (who also plays Salman Khan) and Farhad make an efficient team. Their sense of timing, repartee and humour is risky yet apt. However, this play isn’t a critique or a satire on patriarchy. It is pure slapstick. Maybe if they were nudged a little more, they could have turned it into a rip roaring no-holds-barred satire. Madhav chose otherwise.