The dramatic dozen

Theatre’s finest: Dhwani Vij; (right) Jim Sarbh with Mansi Multani

Theatre’s finest: Dhwani Vij; (right) Jim Sarbh with Mansi Multani  


Vikram Phukan hones in on twelve standout performances of the year on the Mumbai stage

There is a constellation of stage performances that lights up a year. We don’t always reap as bountiful a harvest when it comes to great plays, but actors have a knack for shedding light on shallow waters. Their ephemeral moments of truth disappear as they come, but they leave behind traces of a character’s substance, to be gathered up and distilled in time. Lists are never ever definitive, and those drawn up for theatre are particularly idiosyncratic. Of all actors who have made a lasting impression on stage this year, this is a worthy subset.

Abhishek Chauhan, Hello Farmaaish

In Yuki Ellias’s whimsical tale of feminine emancipation, Chauhan’s Haryanvi RJ, Bobby, is the inveterate stand-in for male hegemony, but the sensitive actor effects a heart-warming journey with redemption at its core. It is a performance marked with irrepressible comic flair and an honesty of emotion, making Bobby not just a sitting duck for an onslaught of change, but a true ally and co-conspirator in his own right.

The dramatic dozen

Aditya Garg,

Stand On The Street

Garg essays a host of street vendors in Aruna Ganesh Ram’s immersive play, with both vim and a simmering angst. Although masked, he gets the documentary elements just right — the mien and tics and styles of utterance — and is a great improviser. But it is when he is subsumed by the spirit of the character he’s inhabiting that Garg soars into an evocation that’s not premeditated in the least.

Devika Rajpal, Quicksand

In Neel Chaudhry’s swirling play, Rajpal is every-woman, astutely moving from one to another of countless women entrenched in a system that takes an imperceptible toll on their psyche. As a witness to events with implications beyond her remit, or a hardened reporter with a smidgeon of empathy, or as romantic collateral damage, Rajpal creates a rich tapestry of accurately delineated urban women in a bustling city with no full stops.

Dhwani Vij, Sonnets c 2018

The ebullient Vij breathes a ferocity of spirit into Anirudh Nair’s site-specific piece, even as she steers whimsical tales of desire and obsession into darker territory. She’s at first instrumental in making the sonnets soar like fireflies. Then, exchanging flair for a guarded sensibility, and with almost wordless eloquence, the actor provides the underpinnings of heartburn and loathing that grounds the stories in a Pandora’s box of romantic uncertainties.

Dipika Roy,

One Flea Spare

In Rehaan Engineer’s searing production of Naomi Wallace’s play, Roy is one of four quarantined individuals, and sits seething in her medieval corset, nursing a body irrevocably ravaged by fire, consigned to fate but sanguine to the end. In submitting to an illicit desire, her repressed self gives way to an almost cathartic acquiescence, and her feminine resignation wreaks new-found rebellion. It is a performance that lends the play gravitas in spades.

Jim Sarbh, Constellations

That Sarbh is one of our elemental actors is a given, but in this version of Nick Payne’s play, his finesse as a performer comes into sharp focus, as he draws out multiple dimensions of the same man, and sets them along divergent paths. Yet, there is a compelling character graph that he effects, as he masterfully pulls the strands together like a cluster of balloons, rising and cascading at once.

The dramatic dozen

Naved Aslam,

The Unexpected Man

Acting opposite director Padma Damodaran, Aslam is elegant and refined as a high-brow novelist, wearing his intelligence on his sleeve, and existing in his own seemingly self-regarding space. Aslam crafts him not as someone intransigent, but as a figure of vulnerability in search of succour in his own way. At some point, when the actor breathtakingly comes into his element, we get a memorable character for the ages.

Neil Bhoopalam, Detective Nau Do Gyarah

In Atul Kumar’s Hindi noir spin-off of The 39 Steps, Bhoopalam displays a characteristic extravagance of character either as one-half of a bumbling detective duo (alongside Gagan Riar) or the prescient impresario Yaadgar. With a touch of suave slapstick he shape-shifts his way through quick changes and witty ripostes. A theatre veteran with a still-hungry appetite for theatrical hi-jinks, Bhoopalam never ceases to surprise.

Pooja Thombre,

Amar Photo Studio

In Nipun Dharmadhikari’s time-travel caper, Thombre plays multiple characters, but is best as an Indian actress of the 1940s, perhaps modelled on Kismet’s Mumtaz Shanti. She inhabits the affected on-screen persona with aplomb, but also creates an authentic presence as the actress herself, caged in by boorish men and a demanding career. It’s a part in which she packs in both comic timing and a strong emotional quotient.

Rijul Ray, Bali

Ray gives his all to Nimmy Raphel’s physically demanding play, amping up the drama and the declamation several notches, but impressively never quite veers over the top. He matches wits with formidable co-actor Vinay Kumar, while gamely grappling with a script whose sympathies clearly lie elsewhere. Ray brings in vigour and rigour to compellingly create an array of archetypal characters whose halos have certainly been dislodged but not fully knocked off.

Shruti Vyas,

Aurat Aurat Aurat

Not quite a likeness of Ismat Chughtai in real life, yet Vyas’s performance in Naseeruddin Shah’s play leaves us with a sense of an actual visitation by the great doyenne. A graceful Vyas negotiates her part with natural effortlessness, taking on material that might seem cerebral and verbose on paper but making it conversational and light-hearted, without compromising on the satire or the wit. It is quite an achievement.

Swati Das, Taming of the Shrew

In Deshik Vansadia’s gender-crossed adaptation, Das is fierce and charismatic as the wilful Petruchio, keeping us aware of his failings as a man, while masterfully prising open his motivations in a way that makes him not just a cipher for patriarchy, but a characterful presence with a striking eccentricity. Das eloquently holds us in her sway tipping over a cautionary tale into a dark caper with considerable relish.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 7:59:40 PM |

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