The play, ‘Pune Highway’ electrifies a Kochi audience with its witty one-liners and swift developments
By Shevlin Sebastian
It is 5 a.m. In a hotel room beside the Pune-Mumbai highway, are three friends, Nicholas Thomas (Nick), Vishnu and Pradeep Khandelwal.
It is a seedy room. On the wall, a graffiti line can be seen: ‘Clenliness (sic) is next to godliness’. There is a washbasin at one side; a table and chair on the other end. Next to a bed in the middle, there is a phone placed on a low stool.
Earlier, Nick, Pradeep, Vishnu and Babu had been travelling in a car. Accompanying them is Pradeep’s girlfriend, Mona.
There seems to be a body on the road. The friends stop to investigate. Immediately, they are attacked by a gang of ruffians with swords. They rush back to the car, but Babu has received multiple wounds and is left behind. Now they are in the hotel room, wondering what to do now. “The cops will finish us if they find out,” says Pradeep. “Look at us: three rich boys, a Mitsubishi Lancer, and a girl.”
But this is not accepted by Nick. “You wanted to slip off,” he says. “You were only bloody thinking of yourself.”
Retorts Pradeep: “It was either saving Babu or saving all our asses. It was a judgement call.”
Vishnu, the stockbroker, says, “It was a wrong one, Pramod. You were too busy with the babe in the backseat of the car.”
There is an intense argument with the three of them, with Nick drawing hilarious laughter from the audience, because he stammers and stumbles over words and sentences.
A waiter, Sakharam, comes in with tea they had not ordered. But Sakaram insists they had placed the order. Nick says, “I hate these buggers, their attitude just sucks.” Sakharam leaves after a while.
Meanwhile, when queried about Mona, Pradeep says that she has gone to her father’s house in Lonavla. Asked why she was allowed to do so, Pradeep shouts, “We don’t want her to get involved in all this. It is best to keep chicks out of all this. Women panic under pressure. They are not like us guys.”
When his two friends ask Pradeep on how he came across Mona, he says, “We met in a bar and got talking about horses.”
Immediately Nick says, “So you only know this babe for a few days and you start riding her.”
The waiter reappears by singing Kishore’s Kumar’s ‘Andheri raaton mein sunsaan rahon par’.
Nick says, “He is messing with our brains.”
He shouts at Sakharam, “Take a walk.” Since the waiter does not know English, Nick says, in Hindi,
“Tum iha se paidal jao.” The audience, at the TT Pac, Kochi, is in splits. Then Sakharam says, “Maal a raha he. Quality maal (A beautiful girl is coming along).”
Suddenly, Mona comes in. She is wearing a reddish top, which is cut at the midriff and tight white trousers, with a golden belt. A sunglass is placed in her hair and she is wearing large earrings and bright red lipstick. As she answers the question about why she came, she suddenly has a vomiting sensation and rushes to the bathroom.
When she returns, Vishnu asks her point-blank, “Why have you vomited? Is it some bad food you ate late night or you are carrying his bastard child?”
Mona smiles and says, “Pramod, we are pregnant.”
Pramod says, “We cannot have this child. Do an abortion.”
She says, “How can you not accept your responsibility? This is 50 per cent your creation, no? It is not a game, Promo. I want you to accept your responsibility.”
A few dialogues later, the three friends realize that Mona is the daughter of an influential politician, Sanjay Mansekhar
Says Nick to Pramod: “This is serious shit. Don’t you know anything about the people you are screwing or what?”
More witty dialogues later, Mona understands that Pramod has been married to Seema for 12 years.
“You wanted to have your fun, but now pay-up time has come,” says Mona. “All you boys are the same.”
And she rushes out of the room. Thereafter Sakharam comes in and tells them that Manshekhar’s henchmen are coming and there is no escape.
It is a gripping play, with superb one-lines and repartees by writer-director Rahul D’Cunha, which keeps the action moving forward at an electrifying place. The acting is superb, by Rajit Kapur (Pradeep), Ashwin Mushran (Vishnu), Yamini Namjoshi (Mona), and Shankar Sachdev (waiter), but the standout performance was by Bugs Bhargava Krishna as the stammering Nick.
‘ Pune Highway ’ was premiered at the Writers’ Bloc festival in 2004, and there have been over a hundred performances in India. It was also staged at the prestigious Biennale Bonn Festival in Germany, as well as in the UK, South Korea, Holland, Belgium, and Malaysia.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)