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Neil Simon’s “Fool” at Delhi

In the land of fools

DIWAN SINGH BAJELI


Comic caper: A scene from ‘Mix Veg in Hot Garlic Sauce’.

Theatre Flavoured with piquant humour, Hemant Kathuria’s “Mix Veg In Hot Garlic Sauce” is an adaptation of Neil Simon’s recipe for Indian tastes

In the past six months four plays by Neil Simon were seen on the Delhi stage presented by different groups at various venues across the city. Most productions evoked encouraging response from the audience. It appears that the majority of theatre goers in the Capital prefer the undemanding entertainment rather then serious comments on the dilemma of man living in a society at war against itself. This past week we saw yet another drama by Simon staged by Desires Unlimited at the LTG Auditorium. Adapted as “Mix Veg In Hot Garlic Sauce” from the original “Fools”, everything about this production in diverting, the accursed characters are a group of idiots who lead a happy life out of their utter ignorance and there are idiotic jokes. All these elements contribute to offer hilarious moments to a jam-packed hall.

Directed and adapted by Hemant Kathuria, the original play is set in a small village in Ukraine. The period is the 19th Century. Hemant’s version is set in an imaginary village called ‘Akal’ which is inhabited by fools whose idiocy is reflected through their behaviour, manner of conversation and the way they carry out their routine work. They do not care to know about their past and have no concern about their future. They live in the present in a happy-go-lucky manner. Their memory is fragile. Most of them don’t remember the name of their dear ones correctly. They have no demands and no complaints against their ruler.

The fools live under the illusion that in this accursed village no one can fall in love and any visitor to the village will be metamorphosed into an idiot if he fails to educate village doctor’s unintelligent but young beautiful daughter within 24 hours or managed to get married with her. Educating an idiot within 24 hours and inspiring her to fall in love in a village where love is a rare commodity is almost impossible and many young teachers came and went frustrated.

This is a comedy with a difference. There is no mistaken identity, no slapsticks and no hypocrisy. The characters and situations are not recognisable. It is the behaviour of the idiots and jokes about them that are source of humour. The ruler of this village is a Nawab who lives on the top of a hill. He comes almost daily to the village to ask the hand of the daughter of the village doctor who in turn refuses him on the grounds that ‘how he can chop off the hand of his daughter to give it to him’. Whenever the clouds thunder in the sky, the villagers consider it the angry outburst of the Nawab and when it rains they consider that the angry Nawab who is throwing water on them from above his hill-top.

The play begins with the arrival of Mohan, a young teacher, to teach Radha, the daughter of the village doctor. While in search of doctor’s residence, he encounters a shepherd, a village postman and a woman who sells lemon water, whose behaviour smacks-of stupidity.

Confused, the teacher still manages to reach the residence of the doctor, and sees his wife and daughter. Now he is certain that everyone in the village is an idiot. However, he falls in love with Radha at the first sight and wants to marry her. But he confronts formidable obstruction. According to the curse he has to educate doctor’s daughter within 24 hours and only then he can marry her. Further the Nawab is desperate to get married to doctor’s daughter.

The first part unfolds in a smooth manner, evoking laughter as well as a sense of curiosity. There is a bit of comic freshness. But the second part appears too contrived to make the storyline credible. The adoption of the teacher by the Nawab and the marriage proceedings conducted by the judge appear to be composed in a slipshod manner. The director treated the climactic scene in a boisterous way. The loose ends could have been tightened with adequate rehearsals. Since it’s a comic fable an element of intricacy would have made the production more effective. The box set is neat and projects the required ambience in which action is set.

Tarun Singhal as Mohan, the teacher, is the lone intelligent character in the play in the midst of idiots. His Mohan is clever enough to achieve his motive and succeeded in breaking the curse that has befallen on the villagers by marrying Radha. The way he feigns as the victim of the curse in the climactic scene shows his presence of mind in the midst of crisis. Mayank Kapur as the Nawab Banga gives an impressive performance. Anuj Dhariwal as village doctor, Rohini Khanna as Radha, the daughter of the doctor, Shirin Sewani as Radha’s mother and Ankita Negi as the woman seller of lemon water, evoke hilarious laughter with the display of moronic traits of their characters.

More shows of the play are scheduled on July 14 and July 15.

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