Welcome to a microcosm in the glamorous world of Mumbai, where there are dreams of stardom, the cravings of innocent love, and the struggle for power. A world right out of a set of a 70s Bollywood film, where the poor but good-natured hero has only one mission in life – to marry the beautiful, coy, and innocent heroine who pines for his love too. But of course, things can’t be that simple. There has to be a real obstacle in a masala story. And there must be a villain! After all, what’s a story without a villain!
In Mahim Junction, that microcosm is a slum adjoining a local train platform called, you guessed it, Mahim Junction. In this crowded, but warm world, our hero is none other than the convivial goon, Rahim. A local leader of sorts, Rahim spends his days hanging out with his friends, while his eyes are always scouting the love of his life, Radha – the local beauty. They’re both in love, but are afraid that their faiths will come in the way. Of course, their fear is justified. Radha’s mother would rather sell her than hitch her off to a poor Muslim boy. And sell her she does, to the highest bidder.
Add to this mix, a drunkard who finds his solace in bottles of whisky, a crude but kind-hearted, cross-dressing prostitute, a foren-returned politician in the making, a heartbroken lover, a couple of buffoonish constables, and of course the evil and powerful villain – a lecherous, exploitative (sexploitative would be apt too) film producer who goes by the name of DDLJ Kaladhanda. More than making films, DDLJ spends time luring gullible, wannabe actresses into his trap by selling them dreams of fame and fortune. Now Radha doesn’t want stardom, but she is desperate to unite with her love who has just been sent to Jail falsely accused of arson, thanks to some sleazy manipulation by DDLJ. The only way for her to be with Rahim is to become a somebody, and thus she walks into this trap that DDLJ practically escorts her to. Do they manage to unite? Does love triumph over evil? Of course, that’s taken for granted in a story like this! How – is what you need to find out.
An entertaining mix of nostalgia and cinema, Mahim Junction is a tribute to the city of dreams Mumbai and its favorite child, Bollywood. Every character in the play is right out of a film that could have been made after the wild, colorful Shammi Kapoor paved way for the likes of the angry-young-man Amitabh Bachhan, and the charismatic Rajesh Khanna. The hero is a typical do-gooder, colorful (bordering on the extreme) and one determined chap who always has a hurdle to pass, whether it comes in the form of poverty, fate or manipulation (or a bit of all), but eventually wins in the end. There are no shades of grey here, only black and white.
The hero’s love interest, the heroine, is shrill, annoyingly sweet and dressed in all colors of the rainbow down to the last strand of hair. Her only purpose seems to be wailing for her man, dancing around the trees, turning crimson at the touch of a finger, among other things that may seem like absurdity now. She seems to be resigned to the fact that she will be used as a pawn in the battle between hero and villain. Eventually she knows that she will be rescued from the evil clutches of the villain.
The villain is pretty predictable too; we’ve seen him in Page 3 and many such films in Bollywood! In the case of Mahim Junction, he is a hilarious, but downright evil producer who gives the phrase casting-couch its real essence. His lewd Freudian slips (he habitually refers elections as erections), incessant groin scratching at the mention of a woman, and crude language don’t paint a very comforting picture of an industry that has been plagued by one scandal after another since its inception. We laugh at his jibes, yet hate him for his cruel intentions. But like we said – What’s a story without a real creepy worm like that?
Then there are others: The desperate lover who, blinded by his love for the heroine lands her in a soup, and then makes all the effort to save her; a good-natured, bottle-clutching, aimless drunkard, and the object of his affections – a foul-mouthed transvestite prostitute with a heart of gold.
The only misfit in this entire ensemble seems to be the Harvard-educated, khadi-draped, wannabe- neta Randy Bhai who becomes DDLJ’s protégé, to learn the ropes on politics. Fresh off the boat from America, he declares that he’s going to play it right with his Harvard pedigree and western ethics, to a baffled mentor who thinks “Harvard sounds backward”. The twisted master asserts that “you’ve got to exploit people. That’s democracy” and teaches him to play the vote bank on religion/caste and the works instead of trying to win over their hearts. Eventually, Randy takes the right road, and gets his votes without resorting to the conventional means (in the Indian context). Surely, that’s not a picture we have of politicians in this country, but then Ms. Kapur gave it her own twist.
In the acting department, the one performance that truly stood out among the many slightly-above-average ones was that of DDLJ. Neeraj Yadav has had a career in theatre spanning over 30 plays and his experience shows in his acting. His histrionic skills deliver precisely what they are supposed to – make us laugh yet hate him at the same time. From his facial expressions and crude language right down to his body language, he’s got everything right for the character he portrays. Pallav Chandar (as Ayesha) and Vishal Verma (as Johnny) have also delivered commendable performances.
There’s love, there’s sacrifice, there’s glamour, there’s remorse, there’s redemption in Mahim Junction. Heck there are even songs for every occasion – joy, separation, loneliness, you name it. Did I mention that this is a musical? If not, then I should have. The music is original, and frankly, quite pleasing in every way. During a song at the end, the entourage spilled over into the audience, involving them in the feet-tapping too! Quite effective.
Sohaila Kapur has faithfully adhered to the formula of 70s filmmaking, and makes no bone about the fact that this is merely a tribute and nothing else. She has it right on almost every front, and if this is an indicator of upcoming works by the Hungry Hearts Festival in the series of plays dedicated to Mumbai and its dream machine, I strongly recommend not missing them. Her eclectic characters are bound to make you laugh, cry, cheer, boo and give you something to think about.
Note: Lookout for the next play in this series called Rubaru: RK in Russia, set to hit the theatres on 15th, 16th, and 17th May, 2009 in the Delhi, NCR region.