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The off day was much appreciated. Most people never came out of their rooms, not even for breakfast. Unlike me. I think the guava juice is the best part of the breakfast here. They shut doors if you reach there any later than 10.30. The worst part is, they stop refilling the guava juice mug at around 10.00. So, it demands a lot of you, but it’s worth it.
I had booked a show at Prithvi… finally. And it promised to be a good one, Manto Ismat Hazir Ho, directed by Naseeruddin Shah. Before that there was a small errand of finding JJ Mehta, the camera dealer in Dadar. The station and its surroundings are just as busy and claustrophobic as they had been a decade back. I was immediately reminded of two scenes that bring out the same visions of wonder that you might get if a herd of elephants came trumpeting towards you. Both were outside railway stations, at rush hour. Once in Dadar, the other time outside Howrah. I’d just perhaps lifted my head when I saw about 2000 heads bouncing towards me. If I were a office goer, I’d have been one of them.
Anyway, since there isn’t much to the JJ Mehta story, let’s take the train out of Dadar to Vile Parle. That’s where I got down to go to Prithvi. DON’T go by what the website says. It isn’t in Vile Parle (East). It is in the west. Also being in an obscure place doesn’t help, unless your autodriver doesn’t mind crossing the overbridge towards the setting sun and drive past Mithibai college towards the theater.
There is an excellent bookshop in the premises which suggests there are some books that I might actually read. Groucho Marx’s letters to his daughter was selling at 150! As I bought that and another, I saw a huge queue had formed to the gate. All in just 10 minutes. I saw Benjamin Gilani at the tail of it who was to be the first of many celeb sightings for the day.
The theater itself is underwhelming but not in a way that’d put you off. Having seen Rangashankara in Bangalore which was built with Prithvi as inspiration, I expected a massive auditorium. It isn’t massive. But it has the quality which makes you feel pretty much how you’d feel in Rangashankara. The audience is closer to the performers (which I somehow never like) and none of the seats are too far away from the stage. The back row was where I had to sit and within minutes the hall was close to being full.
People still came streaming and a few chairs were carried in, it seemed. Just minutes before the show was to start, I thought I saw a wheelchair outside the auditorium. With the lights fairly dim, I am not sure if this is right, but I think I saw Shashi Kapoor being carried from the wheelchair onto a seat in front. Some more seconds later, a grey-haired woman in a shiny kurta walked in. “No, that doesn’t look like Ratna Pathak Shah. Look at her kurta, looks straight out of… dunno what. What’s with that hair. Why is it covering most of her face. Well, wait, maybe it’s just that the light isn’t enough?”
5 seconds later. “Oh no, it is her.” She finds a place next to Benjamin Gilani. She holds another place next to hers. You-know-who breezes in as the last man and sits next to her. I tick another personal checkbox. Show starts.
Manto Ismat Hazir Ho is about a story each written by Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chugtai because of which the authors were tried for obscenity. Sandwiched between these two stories is another one by Manto, a sarcastic look at war. And after these three, a part based on an essay about the trial itself. The most compelling aspect was when Heeba Shah was on stage. Be it in the Ismat Chugtai story, Lihaaf, or as Ismat Chugtai herself in the final part, she was brilliant. The guy who played Manto was also very good, except he seemed incapable of dispelling Naseer comparisons in his acting.
Very good play, and a fun day as well. But was it really Shashi Kapoor?

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