STAGE “Paisa Bolta Hai” proved that old school satire is still hugely popular. Pheroze L. Vincent
Late playwright Ramesh Mehta, known as the King of Comedy, must have been chuckling in heaven. The opening day of a festival, by Katyayani and Three Arts Club, in his name saw the Shri Ram Centre in the Capital bursting at its seams. The seats were taken half an hour before the inauguration. By the time the show began, the aisles, steps —every inch of carpeted area — were covered with enthusiasts drawn to typical light-hearted Delhi satire.
The opening play, “Paisa Bolta Hai”, an adaptation of Shambhu Mitra’s Bengali play “Kanchanranga”, is one of Mehta’s best known presentations on his pet theme of middle-class hypocrisy. A village bumpkin, Panchoo (Anoop Gupta), is lured to the city by Radhey Gopal (Govind Bajpai), an elder from his village now settled in the city. Panchoo ends up as an unpaid servant in Gopal’s house and becomes an object of ridicule and humiliation to his family.
Gopal’s formidable tenant Balli (Prakash Singh) buys Panchoo a lottery ticket which wins him Rs. 1 crore. After this the Gopals do a volte face and treat Panchoo as the most revered member of the household.
“Paisa Bolta Hai” worked well as a comedy. It connected well with the audience, perhaps because it showed them a mirror of themselves, deftly sugar-coating it with humour and theatrics. The first half of the play, in fact, was absolutely perfect. Somehow, in the second half, the charge created by director Sohaila Kapur began to dissipate. The potential of the subaltern characters wasn’t fully exploited.
The most powerful character in the play is that of Tara (Anuradha Vyas), the cantankerous domestic help who is attracted to Panchoo. She heroically defends him in duress, hovering over him like a guardian angel, and at the same time aggressively wooing him. She is the only one in the household whose attitude towards Panchoo remains constant.
In the first half, Tara epitomises proletarian righteousness and feminine energy. But in the second half she is reduced to a weak and wailing damsel-in-distress unable to hold forth in Radhey Gopal’s aggressive household. The change in her character is sudden, and almost disturbing.
The spotlight is overspent on Gopal’s sons — the burly Suresh (Abhimanyu) and the aspiring scriptwriter Umesh (Abhinav Bakshi). While Bakshi and Abhimanyu played their roles to the fullest extent, Panchoo’s transformation from the underdog to the darling of the house definitely warranted more space.
Like most Delhi plays, there was a confusion over the depiction of “dehati” characters. Are they Bhojpuri or Haryanvi? But, overall, the production by Anuradha Dar was splendid and natural. The characters never appeared contrived and the theatrics weren’t overbearing. On the contrary, they were moving, almost like a massage to the heart.