By Deepa Gahlot
Alfred Hitchcock meets Navketan Noir in Atul Kumar’s Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah — a crazy, adventurous and completely delightful tribute to old black-and-white crime movies and graphic novels, seamlessly blending comedy, murder, espionage, music and a “39 Ka Aankda” MacGuffin (Hitchcock fans would know what that is) that indicates “desh ko khatra”. Like in so many Hitchcock films, an innocent bystander gets caught up in a complicated spy plot and is forced to go on the run.
Those who are familiar with noir-inspired Bollywood films of the fifties would smile at the name given to the leading man – Shekhar Kumar. (In dozens of films, Ashok Kumar and Dev Anand were called Mr Shekhar). Sukant Goel plays the hapless doctor, who goes to watch a mentalist’s show at the Royal Opera House and gets a mysterious Russian woman (Anna Ador) tagging along with him to his Khandala home. When she gets killed, Shekhar has to escape cops and gangsters in pursuit, to find out who did it, so that he can prove his own innocence and save the country.
At some point, he finds himself handcuffed to the haughty Miss Maya (Abir Abrar) who first mistakes him for a killer and then falls in love with him. On his quest to solve the puzzle of seemingly nonsensical (“icchadhari bandargah”) instructions given by the dead spy, Shekhar finds himself in many tight spots and eventually in the lair of the KN Singh-inspired villain Rai Bahadur Sinha (Atul Kumar).
There are femmes fatale, damsels in distress and a Howrah Bridge-inspired night club number (remember the slinky Madhubala song Aaiye Meherban?). The characters wear trench coats and Fedora hats much favoured by characters of noir thrillers–even those set in Mumbai, where such attire is never worn.
The actors speak with the stylised, slightly nasal tones that were used by actors in that period, and the plot devices are as corny as they used to be then—characters just changing hats to turn unrecognisable, or a religious book stopping a bullet. The ‘hero and heroine’ don’t get to do the mandatory dance in a wedding party, but the live jazz band placed above all the action going on the multi-layered set, keeps the proceedings moving on briskly. The choreography, lighting, sets, costumes and spoofy script (Pallav Singh, Niketan Sharma) are excellent, and controlling all the Noises Off kind of over-the-cop chaos is director Atul Kumar having a blast, and quite disguising the gruelling rehearsals and precise coordination that must have gone into pulling off a production of this splendid scale. A play you may not take home with you, but the smile stays on for a while after exiting the theatre.
Directed and designed by Atul Kumar
Written by Pallav Singh and Niketan Sharma
Cast: Neil Bhoopalam, Sanket Kandam, Abir Abrar, Srishthi Shrivastava, Gagan Dev Riar, Roshan Shetty, Niketan Sharma, Sukant Goel, Mrinmayee Godbole, Rachel D’souza, Mallika Singh, and Anna Ador
Location: Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
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.