‘Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah’ Is a Spectacular Roller-Coaster Ride
Atul Kumar’s new play brings alive the alleys of the port-city of Bombay in the 1940s and 50s.
Knitting together the worlds of graphic novels, gangster films, the noir genre, black-and-white Hindi films, Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin, Atul Kumar, actor-director and founder-member of The Company Theatre, presents an entertaining play, Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah.
The opening play of the fourth season of Aadyam, a theatre initiative of the Aditya Birla Group, Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah is a roller-coaster ride through the alleys of the port-city of Bombay in the 1940s and 50s. A simple, old-fashioned, detective story about a psychiatrist caught in a murder-mystery, the play is peopled with spies, glamorous women, crooners, bumbling cops, dons et al.
To escape the tedium of his life in the small hill-station of Khandala, psychiatrist Dr Shekhar Kumar makes a trip to Bombay to spend an evening at the iconic Royal Opera House to watch one Mr Yaadgar regale audiences with fantastic memory games. But a sudden gunshot interrupts the show, and in the chaos that follows Dr Shekhar finds himself, willy-nilly, rescuing a stylish damsel who turns out to be Russian. What follows is a tale of international espionage, KGB included.
But Atul Kumar’s narration of this simple story is far from simple.
He creates smoky dens and clubs, modest lodges, luxury-liners, trains, automobiles, and a host of other locales, using the same set of props in an amazing manner; a live jazz band enhances the mood of each scene with background music; fade-outs, costumes that re-create the era of trench-coats and hats; stereotypical characters delightfully spoofed; and above all, the choreographed movements of the actors make his narration a layered one that incorporates various methods of story-telling.
For instance, you see the influence of black-and-white Hindi films in several scenes. The title itself is borrowed from Dev Anand’s 1957 film, which also had a simple crime story. Then, the shadowy dons in Kismet and Howrah Bridge clearly shaped the character of Rai Bahadur Sinha in Kumar’s play; and one spots the similarity between Kumar’s club singer and Howrah Bridge’s Edna (Madhubala).
A popular Geeta Dutt song, Khayalon mein kisi ke, adds to the mood of a romantic scene between Dr Kumar and a Meena Kumari-sounding Rosie.
At one point, the story of the play is taken forward through an interesting graphic-novel format, projected on a large screen. And then, as if stepping out from the screen, the flesh and blood Dr Kumar resumes his run from the sleuths chasing him. It is a seamless amalgamation of two mediums, very entertainingly executed.
Kumar’s light design too, is imaginatively conceived, combining elements of the old and new. For the most part, the live band, at an elevated level, is in semi-darkness, heightening the noir ambience, whereas the hectic goings-on in the forefront are lit by two Fresnel lights that are manually operated to follow the characters and their actions on stage.
When the multi-purpose props are moved around, the stage is plunged into pitch darkness; to light up again, within seconds, to reveal another location.
Everything happens at an exhilarating pace with the actors’ nimble-footedness accelerating the speed. Whether it is Sukant Goel, as the hapless doctor on the run, or Anna Ador playing a cardboard cut-out version of a Russian spy, or Rachel D’Souza paying tribute to Hindi film heroines like Meena Kumari, or Neil Bhoopalam and Gagan Dev Riar multi-performing as cops, henchmen and ticket checkers, the entire team of actors, that include many more, keep the momentum going with their energy, verve and perfect timing.
The play gave me an opportunity to work with physically-trained actors who could jump genres within a singular world and move smoothly through farce to commedia to physical comedy. The backstage and onstage merge, as a team of 12 performers jump in and out of the action as they change costumes in front of the audience, light up the scene manually and take on many characters.Atul Kumar, Director
Where the play falters is in the screenplay and dialogues, to borrow two terms from cinema. A little more humour in the dialogues and fewer repetitive sequences would prevent the play from flagging in parts.
But these are minor flaws in a play that leaves you spellbound with the sheer scale of its operation. Simply spectacular!
(Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah will be next performed at Royal Opera House, Mumbai on 21 and 22 July, and Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi on 4 and 5 August 2018.)
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