Theatre

Epic stuff

A scene from the play.  

Epic Shit Entertainment (ESE), quite fittingly, believes in strange, jarringly appealing names. After all, their second play Birdie NumNum’s brochure is full of them, scattered under various headings. But a funny name, though it might catch your eye, is never enough to make a play work. Fortunately, ESE knows this, and Birdie NumNum brings, along with its eclectic crew of ‘chillums’ and ‘nand-bels’, a hilarious script, and a very talented cast.

Inside Akshara theatre’s auditorium, with a space that stops just short of small and lingers on cosy and intimate instead, the action on the stage feels very immediate and real. It’s also a mercilessly honest space, and with the actors at such close proximity, each delivery can be scrutinised, each expression examined, and each scene carefully studied. A contrived, amateurish performance would fumble here, but, directed expertly by Madhav Mehta, Birdie NumNum comes up trumps, with only a few false moments. The plot follows a series of farcical events after Pappan Pilo, the shining star of Ghoda Realtors and the boss at the south Delhi branch, is set up by his competitors and incurs the boss’s wrath; the resulting mess drawing in his secretary Lilly and employee, Anushka.

The play is described as a comedic tribute to the mystery-thriller genre, and skews heavily in favour of comedy. The first scene, one that immediately summons Sholay flashbacks with its tied up old man and menacing goon, works well towards planting questions in the audience’s head. And then, in what is obviously a flashback, the phone rings in Ghoda Realtor’s South Delhi office, and Mallika Dua, replete in her role as Lily, Pappan Pilo’s secretary, has you at hello. She’s exactly right, from her loud brash humour, to her entirely too familiar English accent and her good natured advice. Sitting behind her overcrowded desk spilling with pens and soft toys, potted plants and midday snacks, Lily makes the audience break out in sudden applause, laughter and guffaws. It’s a pleasure watching Dua act, because she makes it look like so much fun. As the play proceeds, and the story of Ghoda Realtor’s south Delhi office gets further complicated, Dua is joined by Kriti Vij, Shantanu Anam and once again, Maheep Singh. Both Vij and Anam are well cast, and Vij’s man-mad, romantic Anushka is a perfect foil to the earthy, matter-of-fact Lilly. Anam adds another layer to the comic element, and it’s impossible to not laugh at his American sitcom accent, almost worryingly perfect. Stan-up comedian Maheep Singh’s Pappan Pilo is at once endearing and vulnerable, and his refrain of Birdie NumNum pitch perfect each time.

Birdie Numnum’s strength lies in its execution, and the actors are helped along by Ritwik De’s carefully chosen background score. The story, though simple and perhaps only slightly thrilling, comes alive because of a clever script; one that avoids slapstick comedy, relying almost solely on wit and wordplay. It’s a promising second play for ESE, and better still, it’s a downright funny one.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 4:59:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/epic-stuff/article5732571.ece

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