By Deepa Gahlot
Neil Simon, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 91, wrote plays that were humorous, poignant and warm. Their universal, timeless appeal has meant several of his plays have been adapted for Mumbai stage—Barefoot In The Park, The Apartment, The Odd Couple, and two of the most popular ones I Ought To Be In Pictures and The Prisoner Of Second Avenue. New productions of both of the last named plays are currently running.
The movie connect and simplicity of the plot makes sure that I Ought To Be In Pictures is easily transported to a Mumbai setting– Bharat Dabholkar has directed the latest version called That’s My Girl.
Anil Desai (Ananth Narayan Mahadevan) is a Bollywood scriptwriter with a severe case of writer’s block. Into his shabby apartment, which is kept in liveable condition by his girlfriend Anuradha (Ananya Dutta) arrives a teenaged hurricane, Aishwarya AKA Ashu (Shweta Rohira).
Years ago, Anil had abruptly walked out on his wife and two kids in Surat and left for Mumbai. Now Ashu lands up without warning and wants his help to become an actress. According to her, he owes it to her for abandoning her and his son. She is talkative, rebellious and nutty enough to chat with her dead grandmother.
As she puts it: “It was bad enough you were gone, but you could have left my mother there for me. She used to hug me so hard sometimes. Like she was trying to squeeze all the love out of me that she wasn’t getting anywhere else. So instead of growing up to be me, I grew up to be a substitute— I know Grandma’s dead. I know she probably can’t hear me. But I speak to her everyday anyway because I’m not so sure anyone else is listening.”
These lines succinctly explain what her feelings are towards her absentee father, and how their relationship will pan out when Anil has no idea how to be a dad. Anuradha, a film stylist, is around to soothe ruffled feathers, and negotiate her place in the changed equation.
The writing is funny and all the bitterness of broken relationships affectionately papered over; so in spite of the tacky set and make-do costumes, the play is watchable for Shweta Rohira’s confident performance in her very first play. Ananth Mahadevan, is of course, a seasoned actor and brings to his part the turmoil of a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. This father-daughter relationship could have been dark and bitter, but in a Simon, there’s always sunshine after a storm.
Directed by: Bharat Dabholkar
Cast: Ananth Mahadevan, Shweta Rohira, Ananya Dutta
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.