Next up for theatre-goers in the city, who are increasingly being spoiled for choice, is a heady cocktail of Alfred Hitchcock and ‘Indian film noir’. Director Atul Kumar, of the Company Theatre, uses Hitchcock’s 1935 crime thriller The 39 Steps as base material for his new production, Detective Nau Do Gyarah , which is the first of this year’s Aadyam selections. The title is a riff on a 1957 Dev Anand film, part of a limited oeuvre of Hollywood-inspired but decidedly desi thrillers from his banner, from Baazi (1951) to Jewel Thief (1967), that retrofitted an entire genre of cinema to Indian tastes.
So too, through light and shade and on-stage sleight of hand, Kumar’s extravangaza will attempt to evoke the cloak-and-dagger feel of the classic crime melodrama, inflected with recognisable tropes from local cinema — like an infectious Helen-style production number in the gangsters’ den.
Kumar likes his projects to simmer and stew, before going in for the kill to build a running production with a distinct artistic sensibility that might also prove to be a winner at the turnstiles. This is why he hadn’t got on the Aadyam bandwagon earlier. The constraints of scheduling and the pressure to mount a stage spectacular offset the superfluity of funds that theatre companies do not normally get a sniff at (although the Company Theatre is not one of those). This time round, he had a play in the oven that would be perfect for the Aadyam treatment. Last November, he had directed the NSD’s second year students in a six-show run of 39 Ka AanKdaa , a production based on the aforementioned Hitchcock film. A gripping 40-minute presentation, it was replete with the usual flamboyant production values of plays staged at the flush-with-funds institution.
Crafting a thriller
To make his new play a more fully-fledged venture, Kumar developed his student showcase further, re-using much of its dramatic and design structure, but expanding its running time while employing the services of a spanking new ten-strong ensemble drawn from the ranks of Mumbai theatre actors, both established and emerging. Pallav Singh’s writing for 39 Ka AanKdaa was repurposed and elaborated upon by Gagan Dev Riar and Niketan Sharma, who have also taken up starring roles in the production. Sharma plays debonair leading man Shekhar Kumar, although he will only join the production in a subsequent run. The always resourceful Sukant Goel, stepping in last minute, will topline this week’s premiere. Riar and indie star Neil Bhoopalam will pair up as a bumbling police duo certain to bring in the laughs. Although like most other perfiormers in the ensemble, they will double up as other characters or ‘things’.
The storyline of Detective Nau Do Gyarah is all too familiar — a regular Joe gets embroiled in a worldwide espionage network after being falsely accused of the murder of a spy.
Perennially on the run, he encounters every fetching female archetype one might think of. Actors Abir Abrar, Rachel D’Souza, Anna Ador and Mrinmayee Godbole (who impressed in Kranti Kanade’s CRD ) will conspire to make these paragons contemporary women of agency who come to the aid of an utterly homegrown international man of mystery. For this run, director Kumar will step in as the nefarious kingpin of the international spy ring in question — this is a part originally created by Goel. Pivotal sequences in the play will be staged at a fictional Royal Opera House, and Aadyam has plans to take the play to the actual venue, which might make for a ‘meta-tastic’ outing for those with a persuasion for self-referential material. Although it is a venture with much nostalgic appeal and has its classic tropes firmly in place, Kumar’s treatment is part-spoof part-homage. That, added to the work of his spirited ensemble, is likely to give this play a contemporary edge all of its own.
The fourth edition of Aadyam kicks off this weekend, on Saturday June 30 7 p.m. with the staging of Detective Nau Do Gyarah at St. Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra; and on Sunday July 1 at 4 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.; more details at bookmyshow.com