Beauty and a band of brothers

The Salaam Bombay Foundation adapts old favourite Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi for stage in a modern avatar to showcase the talent of their underprivileged students

As the lights are dimmed, a group of teens hurriedly transport props and push furniture onto the stage. The smell of fresh paint wafting from a sofa made out of a blue tin drum and the echo of excited giggles fill up the back stage. Amidst the commotion, the lead actors wait for the director’s nod to react to a large poster just brought in by the crew. Once the chaos settles down, the lights are back on. The cloth is lifted off the poster, revealing a vibrant image of actress Alia Bhatt. The notorious characters from the 1958 comedy Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi — the Ganguly brothers — react to the poster, making it congruent with the setup of the ’50s. But the reinvention of the classic isn’t the only twist to the stage adaptation. The performers in the play aren’t professional actors, but teens studying in municipal schools and colleges.

Cashing in on Bollywood

With an aim to display the talent of graduate students of Salaam Bombay Foundation’s theatre academy, the NGO has decided to stage a feature play on a commercial scale for the first time. The intention was clear from the start: the play had to be based on a Bollywood movie. “Hindi films have a wider appeal,” says Rajashree Kadam, vice-president, operations, Salaam Bombay Foundation. They zeroed in on Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi for its universal appeal and abundance of comedy.

The foundation then approached director Chittranjan Tripathi, best known for his production Taj Mahal Ka Tender, to spearhead the play. Tripathi jumped aboard to explore the possibility of translating a classic film onstage and to discover new talent. Thus began the hunt for the perfect leads: actors who could match up to the prowess of brothers Kishore, Ashok and Anoop Kumar, and the talented Madhubala.

Finding the right talent

Stepping into the shoes of Kishore Kumar, was 18-year-old Rajkumar Salve, who stumbled upon the world of acting in Class V after seeing his brother attend theatre sessions at the foundation. He has since taken part in numerous dramas, but never in a play this long. A Class XII student from Malad, Salve finds the pressure of playing the lead character both exciting and exhausting. “Par Sir kehte hai, actor ko selfish banna chahiye, (but the director says an actor must be selfish) so I concentrate only on my performance,” says Salve, who wants to take up theatre professionally.

For 14-year-old Sakshi Rajesh Surve, being chosen to play the character of Renu, essayed originally by Madhubala, came as a pleasant surprise. Being a student of Salaam Bombay’s dance academy, Surve wonders why the director picked her out of a pool of trained actors. Thrilled to have been selected, she tried watching the classic comedy for the first time. However, the shy Class VII student admits that she gave up after the first 30 minutes. “I’m more of a Shah Rukh Khan fan,” she says. A Worli resident, Surve counts dancing and acting as her hobbies and wants to pursue medicine professionally.

To help Surve and other ambitious teens like her realise their dreams, proceeds from the play will be used for the foundation’s educational projects. “Through theatre, we not just nurture talent, but also impart life skills like staying calm under pressure,” says Sachin Siddharth Jadhav, senior trainer, Salaam Bombay Theatre Academy.

For the teens, the journey to the stage has been full of hurdles. Apart from juggling studies with family responsibilities, they also had to convince their parents. “Because of their socio-economic conditions their priorities are different, so we had to go from house to house getting their approval,” says Kadam.

Old tale, new twist

While directing, Tripathi was clear that he didn’t want the audience to have a sympathetic outlook towards the play, so he treated the students as professional actors. “What these kids go through is not for the audience to know,” says Tripathi, for whom the biggest challenge was translating a film to stagecraft.

In an effort to match up to the larger than life world shown in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Tripathi turned the production into a “cinematic play”. As the comedy progresses, video clips are interspersed to retain the cinematic essence of the story. “These are portions that cannot be translated into theatre language,” says Tripathi, who truncated the three-hour film into two hours on stage.

To project the clips, a large white screen is placed as a backdrop along with two screens on either side of the stage. The video clips feature the same actors as in the play. “We need to improvise as per the modern world,” says Tripathi, hoping that the experiment pays off.

The musical core

Integral to the charm of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is its foot-tapping music. Popular playback singer Shantanu Mukherjee, better known as Shaan, and vocalist Neeti Mohan lend their voices to all the songs used in the play.

Taking forward his 10-year-old relationship with the Salaam Bombay Foundation, Shaan insisted on singing all the songs as a goodwill gesture to the students and as a tribute to the film. “It’s one of the top 10 classics of all times,” says the singer, who counts ‘Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka’ as his favourite track from the album. “It’s one of those rare conversational songs.” To motivate the young actors, the singer also visited the rehearsals two days before the play premieres and took pictures with the students.

After about six weeks of rehearsals, Tripathi expects a good response to the play. “The classic has a subtle relation to karma,” says the director. He adds that like the film, the play also seeks to induce a lasting sense of positivity, anticipating that it receives the same from the audience.

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi premieres today at Y.B. Chavan Auditorium, Nariman Point at 7.30 p.m and will play at the same venue till November 6, and then at Rang Sharda, Bandra, on November 11, 12 and 13. Check for details.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 1:31:37 PM |

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