Adaptor: Hardeep Singh Kohli and Jatinder Verma
Director: Jatinder Verma
Reviewer: Steve Barfield
The Public Reviews Rating:
This is a fabulous vibrant, colourful and extremely funny theatre piece from Tara and reminded me of their previous adaptation of Molière, Tartuffe at the National theatre in 1990. It shows the company’s distinctive style at its best: inventive and eclectic in its hybridisation between eastern and western influences; self-consciously knowing in its relationship to the audience; and unpredictable in the way it weaves the rough theatre of folklore with a more contemporary perspective on the India that has become capitalism’s latest poster-boy. It succeeds in being a real visual feast full of energy and charm in the intimate space of the Tara studio and is faithful to the spirit of Molière’s play, like all his work much influenced by Italian commedia dell’arte scenarios.
The plot is much the same as in the original, (even down to the comic use of asides to the audience, which other charters partially overhear, despite the stage convention), but the action is now set in modern India, in a town a little way from Mumbai. The language is a wonderfully rich mix of Indian English as spoke by the Mumbai bourgeois, sprinkled with Hindi words and expressions (the programme provides a useful glossary). The costumes are rather good, especially for the women and for the miser’s costume which echoes Gandhi’s iconic dress and there is some very effective use of lighting. The staging conventions play up both western and Indian comic traditions. Actors change from one character to another (most have to double as another character), by changing an item of clothing and their mannerisms in the minimal, but very atmospheric set created by Claudia Myer. In terms of Indian traditions, particularly noticeable is characters miming to love songs famous from Bollywood movies. These songs have often had their words changed in translation and there is a trio of excellent live musicians: singer Sohini Alam provides some chilly, jazzy beautiful vocals, while keyboardist Danial Dhondy and percussionist Hasan Mohyeddin provide the songs.
The central figure is a Kanjoos (the miser), Harjinder, a paragon of meanness and cheapness who loves his money above anything else. He is an exaggerated figure of a skinflint and is played with a delightful, pantomimic verve by Antony Bunsee as a makhi choos (‘flea-sucking miser’) of a villain. Harjinder’s two children have fallen in love, following the convention of Bollywood love movies and seek marriage. Dimple , his daughter, (played by the beautiful and very versatile Krupa Pattani), is in love with her father’s butler, Sam Kordbacheh’s athletic, honest, charismatic, Valmiki. Deven Modha plays his son Kishore, he’s more of a typical, modern Mumbai teenager than his sister, oppressed by his father who fears he is profligate, he has fallen in love with a local girl Mariam (played by Mehrish Yasin) from an impoverished family. The problems is that Harjinder has decided that Dimple should marry a rich Mumbai man, Don Aslam, as he is prepared to take her without a dowry which will save money and has valuable business connections, and Harjinder intends to marry the young Mariam himself.
Completing the odd household we have Caroline Fitzpatrick as a marvellous Frosine, the fixer of the story. She is trying to arrange the marriage between Harjinder, the miser and young Mariam. In this version she is wonderfully funny, upper-class Englishwoman who has gone to India to find spirituality and who believes in traditional India more than the young Indians she meets. She hopes to gain the price of a plane fare to an ashram for fixing the marriage. Fitzpatrick also plays Don Aslam, the rich Mumbai businessman as a mafia style Don, but then he’s a crucial figure in the play’s conclusion and there are also two servants, Lalli Farishta and Manju played by Deven Modha and Krupa Pattani respectively, the latter created by an apron with large bust that she dons.
It is a rich and exuberant piece and there’s something both irreverent and apposite that the wonderful Antony Bunsee’s miser’s absolute parsimony is continually alluding to a distorted obsession with Ghandian principles of thrift to explain his obsession with money. For him Ghandi is literally symbolised by the nickname ‘smiling Ghandi’ for rupee notes. Also very funny is the way that the Indian characters are so incredulous towards Frosine’s Indian patter of chakras and karma and a measure of its many ironic jokes that at one point characters remark they should trust her, as after all the British did bring the railways to India. The joke alludes to Kipling’s Kim and is deeply ironic because Frosine is making her claims in terms of a traditional India that modern Mumbai and Bollywood has little time for. It is a production that will certainly gain from being seen more than once due to its richness and thematic complexity. I hope Hardeep Singh Kohli and Jatinder Verma’s script is published as it is wonderfully inventive.
Runs until Sat 13th OctKanjoos (The Miser) - Tara Arts, London,
Tags: Antony Bunsee, Caroline Kilpatrick, Claudia Myer, Danial Dhondy, Deven Modha, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Hasan Mohyeddin, Jatinder Verma, Kanjoos, Krupa Pattani, London, Mehrish Yasin, Moliere, Sam Kordbacheh, Sohini Alam., TARA Arts