Bombay Showcase

Carry on, Jeeves

As a precocious custodian of my family library — essentially a creaking mahogany showcase — a steadfast feature of my childhood has been shelves and shelves of undusted PG Wodehouse books. These were birthday presents accumulated over years in a household full of children.

We weren’t particularly Anglophile, I was partial to comics like Amar Chitra Katha and Asterix, so it did take a leap of faith for me to dive into the more ‘adult’ world of the charmingly gormless toff, Bertie Wooster, and his wonderfully adroit valet, Jeeves. The popular television series, Yes Minister , with its similarly odd-couple pairing, had prepared the ground somewhat. As I discovered, just one title (well, it was an Omnibus ) was enough to get me hooked, and I was able to binge-read an entire oeuvre (or part, thereof) over the course of just one summer vacation. Having pulled myself up by my bootstraps, I came away strangely feeling both smug and chastened, for having stayed with the material so resolutely. The readathon allowed me to ascertain that hidden recesses of human meaning can be excavated from even such a thing as a stiff upper lip.

Of course, India can easily be called ‘the incongruous outpost of Wodehouseana’, to paraphrase Shashi Tharoor. Indians are masters of cultural appropriation, whether one pins that down to a persisting colonial mindset and the aspirations it engenders, or simply evidence of a broad aesthetic bandwidth that encompasses everything from JK Rowling to Janis Joplin to Justin Bieber. The oxymoron of choice is that we are a selectively eclectic breed. White sells better than black, America sells best. In the murky waters of middle-England aristocracy and its insufferable gentility, that Jeeves ferries his hapless master/ward around, there is little semblance of our own pre-ordained hierarchies, where the bridges of inequity cannot be vaulted over by simply a flair for erudite repartee. It is unlikely that audiences in India read Wodehouse with any sense of irony about their own upstairs-downstairs arrangements, because, manservant or not, the elegantly accented Jeeves is as upper crust as it gets in India. In the end, the butler has the last word but that is no subversion.

However, to revel in this vaunted literary legacy should not invite reproach in what is the centenary year of Jeeves and Wooster. Their first appearance was in the short story, Extricating Young Gussie, published in September, 1915. In what is great timing, an award-winning production that pays homage to Wodehouse will open in Mumbai in January. In the ‘the first ever Indian tour of a major West End production’, Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense takes off from the novel The Code of the Woosters , and turns it spectacularly on its head. Adapted by brothers David and Robert Goodale, and inventively directed by Sean Foley, it has been running in the UK for two years (since October 2013), Mumbai being its first international stopover. This is a coup in itself for its Indian handlers, Blank Slate, an advertising firm entering the treacherous world of theatre production with the fine resolve of restoring Wodehouse to his vintage fans. Indians are, quite possibly, the largest Wodehouse readership in the world.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense will play at the NCPA’s Jamshed Bhabha Theatre from January 8 to January 10 (two shows daily, at 4 pm and 8 pm). Tickets, priced at Rs 2,004 to Rs 8,015, are available on bookmyshow.com, or the NCPA box office.


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 11:52:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/carry-on-jeeves/article8039333.ece

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