I’ve often mused at the title of “I’m Not Rappaport,” the play-then-film about two men from varying backgrounds coming to terms with the ravages of old age. Even though I’ve never seen the play or the film, I was always tickled each time the phrase was used as the punchline of any dumb joke. After yesterday, however, I can kind of say I know what I’m talking about.
“I’m Not Bajirao” is the Bombayite take on the play, wherein an aged Parsi and his Marathi counterpart drone on about old age, the good old days, jokes, family, etc. The play has been running off-and-on for years in Bombay – Anthony likened it to the Shear Madness of Bombay, and thus something we should probably see. So, last evening, we caught a performance at the Tata Theatre, part of the NCPA, an arts complex I’ve lauded before.
Although I’ve been diligently trying to study my Hindi again, I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to understand the play. “Kyaa sab Hindi ya Marathi me hoga?” (Will it all be in Hindi or Marathi?) There were certainly side jokes in Hindi Marathi, and Gujarati, but the bulk of the play was in English, luckily. The themes of the play were easy enough to understand. Plus, the body language of the actors playing the two main characters – Dhunjisha Batliwala and Madhukar Kulkarni – was so spot-on that actual speech was hardly necessary.
Boman Irani, who played the 75-year-old Parsi worrywart Batliwala, was hilarious – even more so when I realized that the actor is actually in his 30s. I’d even be willing to say that his performance was compelling enough to be comparable to any physical comedian I’ve seen. But, he didn’t necessarily steal the show. Sudhir Joshi, who played the ever-scheming Kulkarni, seemed to bring to life all of the nuances of his Marathi character with the raise of an eyebrow. Had I not been in the sixth row, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten such a good read of his face.
I’m Not Bajirao left me with a really good feeling about Bombay theater, so I hope that I can get back to the NCPA, or at least to the Prithvi Theatre Festival this coming fall/winter. What’s more, the prices for seeing a show are quite reasonable. The good seats were about Rs. 300-400 ($8-$10) and the cheap seats were around Rs. 150. That still doesn’t match the amazing prices for movies – circa Rs. 80 for reserved balcony seating – but the quality will always be better, especially in comparison to tripe like Maine Pyaar Kyon Kiya. Ugh.