In 2017, you don’t go to a play which ought not to have been written in the first place.

Before Akshay’s ‘Padman’, Twinkle’s ‘Dud’man Makes Theatre Debut

There are times when the society feels badly impoverished by the absence of the likes of Oscar Wilde. The man who had no qualms in declaring,

In old days, books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays, books are written by the public and read by nobody.
Oscar Wilde

A celebrity columnist, married to one of the highest-paid actors in the world, writes a story, and bingo... it has to be adapted into a play! Once adapted, it needs a stellar cast, a befittingly notable director, and a jam-packed auditorium. And that is what would have inspired a Wildean aphorism like the one above.

In this review, however, it will suffice to say that Salaam Noni Appa, the much publicised play based on Twinkle Khanna’s story, is a dud.

The Delhi show of the play was houseful, despite steep ticket pricing. 

Adhir Bhat’s thespian adaptation of Khanna’s short story from her bestselling book, The Legend of Laxmi Prasad, directed by veteran Lillete Dubey, falls flat on most counts.

Dubey plays the eponymous protagonist in the play, an Ismaili Muslim widow in her sixties. The narrative trudges along in a linear fashion as she finds the joy of companionship in Anand ji, a Gujarati yoga teacher, played by Darshan Jariwala. Her younger sister, Binni, unwittingly sows the seeds of this relationship by being absent in most of the sessions. Binni, played by Jayati Bhatia, puts her widowhood to better use: Shopping, matchmaking, hopping from one hobby to another, and losing her temper at the dhobi.

If it were a Greek tragedy, the play, and not the protagonist, would be the one with hubris. Its delusions of greatness and profundity are almost tragic.

There is no complexity in the plot, no element of surprise in the script, no nuance in character delineation, and certainly, no novelty in the form. One feels bad for Dubey, who has taken the dual responsibility of resuscitating a dead ream of paper. In 2017, you don’t go to a play which ought not to have been written in the first place. To be fair to Khanna, while the story she wrote may be endearing, it doesn’t automatically lend itself to be made into a play.

And when the tickets are priced between Rs 800 - 4,500, it pinches even more.

Yes, Dubey, Jariwala and Bhatia are fine actors, hence it is almost tragic to see them working with a weak script. An autumn love-story by itself is nothing new to begin with: The familiar brushstrokes of loneliness, proprietary, and mutual tolerance flit across this canvas. The story of Noni, and a slightly younger Anand ji, falling in love with each other could have opened a window into the recesses of human psyche. Alas, the audience are allowed no such luxury.

All the characters in the play, to quote EM Forster, are flat. That they are played by accomplished actors does not help the matter much.

The jokes about Baba Ramdev, flatulence, hearing aids, and – hold your breath – flying pigs, underline the fact that the script is lurching along towards the terminal. The only break in the monotony comes in the form of Anand ji’s foul-mouthed wife. But she too, is a stock shrew that a man like Anand ji cannot ever attempt to tame. Apart from her aptitude for screams and curses, we do not know anything about her.

A story of ordinary people need not be entirely uninspired, in either its form or treatment. Such productions seem to erroneously suggest that only larger-than-life characters deserve virtuoso artistic engagement.

From the simplistic set to utterly forgettable sound design, there is nothing that distracts one from the weakness of the foundation of this play. Simplicity is endearing, puerility is not. Particularly not when you set out to make “simple” your USP.

Simple stories and simple characters can be powerful if there is a promise of nuance in them. Simple characters who are also flat are disastrous. When they turn into cliches, it’s even worse. As the play ends, in their union, Noni and Anand ji do not really make any significant journeys. They proceed in largely predictable ways, doing predictable things.

The Mumbai premiere of the show was a star-studded event. Yes, the ‘industry’ likes its own people. The Delhi show was a houseful. This is enough to announce Khanna’s arrival as a serious writer.

Mr Wilde, however, would have given us a scathing one-liner for this phenomenon.

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