The comedy, ‘Rafta Rafta’, engages a Kochi audience with its slapstick lines and an unforgettable slice of Indian life in London
By Shevlin Sebastian
The play, ‘Rafta Rafta’, opens in the living room of a middle-aged Punjabi couple, Vishu and Suman Malhotra, in London. Their son, Adi, has just got married to a Muslim girl, Tasneem, and there is a celebration in the house.
But Adi is strait-laced and will not drink and enjoy despite the entreaties of his father. Instead, he is busy looking at his mobile phone. “Why is he always pressing his fingers on that object?” asks Vishu.
Says Tasneem: “Daddyji, that is a Blackberry. I gave it as a wedding gift to Adi.”
Retorts Vishu: “My father gave me a buffalo during my wedding. I didn’t go crazy over it.”
Meanwhile, the lights fade, and on the right is the kitchen. As Tasneem prepares tea for Adi, her mother, Fatima, tells Suman, “I used to go to sleep and wake up the next morning and think, ‘Raat Ko Ho Gaya’ (It happened during the night).”
Tasneem says, “Ma, I won't have that problem. I have read all about the theory of sex.”
Fatima says, “Is that enough? Men are guided by what is between their legs. But without love, marriage is a long, slow death.”
Back to the living room: there is an arm wrestling contest between Vishu and Tony Chopra, a cinema owner, which the former wins hands down. “I used the Cobra technique,” says a gloating Vishu. He goads his son to play, and for a while, it would seem that Adi would win, but finally, it is Vishu who is triumphant. “It was a long slow squeeze,” says Vishu. “This time it was the python method.”
On elevated stages are two bedrooms: one for the newly wedded couple, and the other for Adi’s parents. So, the curtain never drops during the play. And the scenes blend seamlessly from the living room to the kitchen to the bedrooms.
Adi, like the typical repressed Indian, fails to consummate his marriage and looks bereft. When Fatima comes to visit Tasneem, she confides in her mother about Adi’s non-performance. A desperate Fatima says, “Maybe it happened so fast you did not notice it.”
After six weeks, Fatima tells Suman and Vishu, “It has not taken place. Tasneem is still a virgin. Your son is defective material.”
Suman is upset by the description of her son. “How can she say our son is defective?” she tells Vishu. Says a morose Vishu: “Adi and I have never discussed anything below the belt.”
Soon, Tony comes to know. He confronts and mocks Adi. “I’ll do the work for you,” says Tony. His wife, Molly, a Britisher, in tight jeans and stiletto heels, slaps him and says he has been a non-performer for years.
Back at home, as expected, Adi accuses his wife of betraying him and there is a physical scuffle. It seems as if their marriage is coming to an end.
But in the last scene, both Adi and Tasneem have made up and they tell their families that they are going for a honeymoon to Blackpool, just like Adi's parents, Vishu and Suman did so many years ago.
When Vishu hears this, he wipes away the tears from his eyes. He looks at his younger son, Raj, and says, “At your age when you are very happy, you start laughing. At my age, we start crying.”
It is a poignant end to a wonderful play, written by Ayub Khan-Din of ‘East is East’ fame. This particular programme, at the JT Pac, Kochi, was staged by the Mumbai-based theatre group, Akvarious. It was directed by Tahira Nath and Akash Khurana, who plays Vishu. The other characters include Umar, an assistant projectionist and friend of Adi, a Punjabi couple, and Fatima’s husband, Khalid.
“It was slapstick comedy at its best, but there were a lot of life lessons in it also,” says John George, an audience member.
Yes, at the end of the play, one was left wondering about how we Indians behave the same all over the world.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)