The life of Cutter Chee, a typical seventies Hindi film don, comes alive

The Drama School Mumbai travelled south recently to present The Curious Climb of Cutter Chee in the city. The tongue-twister of an eponymous epithet refers to the titular character of Cutter Chee - at one point in the production hilariously referred to as Shri Cutter Chee ji - a typical seventies Hindi film don. A reinterpretation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, the play proceeds to successfully incorporate a number of Brechtian ideologies from social consciousness to the predominance of method over suspense.

With a bang and guns blazing, Chee and his partner in crime, Roma, make a dramatic cops-and-robbers style entrance. Decked out in a shiny red suit, bell bottoms et al, Chee’s costumes made an impression only rivalled by Roma’s voice in later songs. And songs there were in abundance; a couple beautifully rendered and a couple forgettable. For the most part though, the cast, which also doubled as the crew, provided the tempo by also functioning as a Grecian chorus for certain parts of the play. In particular, the initial exposition, which profiled the characters and set the stage for the events in the play, was artfully executed.

Shifting fluidly between multiple characters, the cast, save for a couple of slips, remained on top of their game. And with dialogue in English that incorporated Hindi and Tamil as well, that was quite a task. Roma’s Tamil tirade is noteworthy for the vocal prowess that bore resemblance to Shankar Mahadevan’s Breathless. Cutter Chee, however, broke free of the pack by a mile. From a bumbling small-time crook to a powerful mafia head, he was effervescent in his performance. Watch out for the especially hilarious scene where he attempts to learn the Queen’s English with dialogue from Julius Caesar.

But along with memorable scenes such as the opening act, the lampooning of the ma-son camaraderie and the slow motion crime spree, some scenes fell short of production values overall and betrayed a less then reverential following of the tenets of Brecht’s drama.

The Drama School combines an early 20th century style of drama with four-decade-old Hindi crime capers.For the most part, it manages to make the story of one man’s rise, originally imagined as an allegory to Adolf Hitler, relatable and watchable. What it excels in is in making individual scenes stick, something that is quintessentially Brechtian.