By Deepa Gahlot
Jeff Goldberg calls his production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General “a Bombay adaptation”— it is a much shortened version set amidst the corruption and amorality of a rich Gujarati diamond merchant family in Mumbai.
That the original, first published in 1836, and set in imperial Russia, still works in 2018 Mumbai, is the mark of a classic and of Gogol’s genius. The way he depicted greed and corruption in a small time is a masterly study of human nature.
By condensing a town to just one family, Goldberg has reduced the scope of the play, but not its wicked, satirical humour.
The main mover-and-shaker of the Mehta clan is Abhimanyu (Hasit Shah, the only one who speaks with a Gujarati accent). His Punjabi (going by her accent) wife Sonali (Sanchita Puri), sister Riya (Divyani Gandhi), and cousin Alisha (Shruti Agrawal) are all the chattering, shopping, bitching type—uniformly clad in very tight, very short dresses (some variation could have worked in the wardrobe department —they all look like they were auditioning for item girl).
When Abhimanyu learns from the scatterbrained Honey (Priyansh Singhal)—not clear how he fits into the family– that a tax inspector has come from Delhi to look at their doctored books and find proof of money-laundering, he pays Kabir Singh’s (Akshat Mishra) hotel bill, and brings him and his queer valet Raj (Avi Upadhyay) home, so that they can influence his decision. There’s one more loony Mehta around, the burger-chomping Rajeev (Sumair Lalwani), who has his own axe to grind.
Kabir lives it up, flirting with all three women and making money on the side, and vanishing just when the Mehtas are celebrating his engagement to Riya. The Mehtas, of course, deserve to be conned, and mocked by the glib Kabir.
Watching the first show, the actors were all enthusiastically overdoing their performances, due to which the comedy became too broad and more farcical than it required to be. It needs, perhaps, to be toned down and also fleshed out a bit, or the impact of the satire is lost. The original ends with the Mayor (who mistook the conman for a government inspector) uttering the classic line to the audience, “What are you laughing about? You are laughing about yourselves!” Because, given a chance to get away with scamming the government, everyone would do it—black money is almost institutionalised in India. Gogol could not have known it, but his play seems to have been written for any country that has crooked bureaucrats and politicians. Which is why there have been many other productions of it all over the world and it never fails to hit the mark.
The Inspector General (a Bombay Adaptation)
Director: Jeff Goldberg
Based on the play by Nikolai Gogol
Cast: Akshat Mishra, Hasit Shah, Shruti Agarwal, Divyani Gandhi and others
Seen on Aug 31, at the Jeff Goldeberg Studio, Khar
About The Inspector General
Based on Nikolai Gogol’s classic play, this is a twisted tale of con-artists about the wealthy diamond merchant family. Read on to find what Deepa Gahlot has to say about this play.
Posted on Sep 03, 2018
Location: The Jeff Goldberg Studio, Bandra West, 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.