Before this, Rahul DaCunha has directed three other monologues-based plays: ‘Going Solo’, ‘Going Solo 2 – Living on the Edge’, and ‘One on One’. (‘The Wisest Fool on Earth’ was a monologue featuring a single actor, not an ensemble.) And they’ve all been tremendous. (I haven’t seen ‘Going Solo’, but have the other two, and they’ve been brilliant in all the departments: writing, acting, directing, social comment.) So, when you see a dialogue piece in the ironically named ‘One on One Part 2’ (OOOT), the irony hits home further, and you feel a tremendous sense of dismay: What’s it doing here? Unfortunately, that isn’t the only thing dismaying about OOOT.
Straight up, the material is very pedestrian. Apart from two or three pieces (one of which was adapted), you get the feeling you’ve seen these life-slices before: the harassed homemaker, the unsure bride-to-be (blame this squarely on Imtiaz Ali, who’s made an industry out of inner-conflicted lovers), a Gujju NRI hankering after money, family and friends fighting to get the body of a beloved one (‘Saaraansh’ Two)… It feels like Rage Productions (Rahul’s theatre group along with Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel) was at a loss for inspiration, or worse, they did the second part of ‘One on One’ to milk the success of the original. Rage could have pushed either the stories further (to get more out of them) or itself further (to get better stories).
Nevertheless, two pieces (actually three, if you include the one adapted) seem fresh and scintillate. Two pieces representing opposite sides of the India story. A harrowed newbie TC in the boondocks of Bihar going after WT (without ticket) travelers and having to pay the price for his naivete, played to perfection by Ashok Mishra of ‘The Week That Wasn’t’ on IBNLive. DJ Elvis, who rather than modeling himself on the King has done so on his perception of DJs, or to put it better, a Mac boy from Mangalore who’s trying to be a Mac dude from Bandra (the piece doesn’t say this, but that’s the impression you get). Third up is something that’s even more involved (and that’s why you know it’s adapted): a Parsi middle-aged man, with weak eyesight and all, sitting for a pilot’s interview, but from time to time, segueing into thoughts of insecurity. It takes you a while to realise, or just wonder, if the interview too isn’t happening only in his head.
The second downer is the acting ensemble. Having lukewarm material is liveable if you have talent that can elevate the material or that pushes itself. Unfortunately, the best actors get the best pieces (the delightful Sohrab Ardeshir plays the Parsi guy and Neil Bhoopalam raises his mettle several notches to play the DJ). Anu Menon and Vrajesh Hirjee do their best as the homemaker and Gujju guy, but you’ve seen them play these kind of roles before. So too with Rajit Kapur in both the dead man’s soliloquy and in the soldiers’ tale. The soldiers’ story is the aforementioned oddman dialogue in this series, and co-stars Hussein Dalal, who won hearts as the stuttering stand-up comedian in the Nescafe award-winning TVC, but who seems to be trying to do too much here. Finally, Shikha Talsania as the bride-to-be. Shikha, Ranbir Kapoor’s spunky friend in ‘Wake Up Sid’, has still some way to go when it comes to older roles, it would seem. To make matters worse, the mic was off-centre in her act.
OOOT, along with better material (like the brilliant lamppost act from the first series), needed some of the earlier stars that have featured in Rage’s monologues: Anand Tiwari (of the same lamppost piece) and theatre powerhouses Anahita Oberoi and Zafar Karachiwala. (Zafar’s name was mentioned for one of the acts, but guess he couldn’t make it, and Anahita seems to have gone into thespian hibernation.)
With two tepid plays on the trot (‘The Siddhus of Upper Juhu’, starring Rajit and Shernaz, before this one), you begin wondering… Has Rahul DaCunha and/or Rage lost its muse? At a time when people have other equally witty, if not more, forms of live entertainment (stand-up and open mic), it will be interesting to see if, or how, Rage gets back its mojo. Or, and this is the Bombay boy in me speaking, because Rage’s plays are so much about and around the city in which they are born, maybe they are best enjoyed there.