The Waterman’s Theatre in West London has long had a reputation for bringing in theatre artists and productions from all over the world and for being open to experimentation.
The theatre has brought in Lillete Dubey’s The Primetime Theatre Company on numerous previous occasions with ‘Boiled Beans on Toast’ being the latest.
Directed by Dubey, the play has received rave reviews since its premier in Mumbai last year.
Written by popular playwright and actor Girish Karnad, the title is an allusion to the modern name of Bangalore – Bengaluru.
According to folklore, 12th Century Kannada monarch Veera Ballala II was out hunting in the forest one day when he became lost. After wandering around for miles, the king happened upon a woman who lived in the forest and who offered him ‘Benda Kulu’ or boiled beans.
On that day King Ballala is said to have named the spot Bendakaluru (city of baked beans) which eventually became the sprawling metropolis of today.
Karnad explores the changing kaleidoscopic landscape of a laid back city into the churning pot-pouri of cultures with the city of Bangalore taking on the hue and title of being the IT capital of India.
So how does the average person of the old Bangalore survive this onslaught of people, traffic and conflict? What happens to the traditional wealthy families who decide to invest in the IT world and face the paradox of youthful exuberance and arrogance that signifies the new generation of techies?
Moving from one situation to another, this drama explores the lives of residents within this city – from a grandmother who has found her passion for derby, through a housewife and a young boy trying to make his mark in the music industry, to an aspiring small town man moving to the city to chase his dreams.
The play begins with the maids quarreling over the fact that “madam doesn’t like when family visits during work hours.” In its very opening act, the play introduces us to the lives of Bangalore’s domestic workers and the power struggles between maids in the same house.
Moving to the living room of the wealthy and urban Padabidri family, where Anjana Padabidri (Deepika Deshpande) is chatting with her friend Kitty (Avantika Akerkar) about cancer patients in a hospice that Anjana volunteers at, until their conversation is disturbed by Prabhakar (Joy Sengupta) – a man from a small town who has recently shifted to the IT capital with the hopes that he may land a permanent job.
The man, though nervous and awkward, talks with great enthusiasm about his time as a child in the Western Ghats and how he enjoys the construction sounds in the ever-growing city, the traffic, the population and the noise.
Noticing his plight and his gullible nature, Kitty, the elite housewife and socialite, tells Prabhakar that she can help him with a job, given her range of industry contacts, but for Prabhakar’s bad luck, it turns out that Kitty is playing him.
Personally, I had a problem with this character as I thought it was underdeveloped. It leaves you wondering what Kitty hoped to achieve by playing him and if this is meant to confirm that all small-town folk are vulnerable to manipulation in a big city like Bangalore.
In another sub plot, sassy house help Vimla (Meenal Patel) is one the best characters in the story!
Having worked in the same house for eight years, she is now under the scanner for allegedly stealing some valuables to peddle outside with a man who she calls “her first cousin.”
Her story again brings to the forefront the largely neglected lives of domestic workers in any big Indian city.
Meenal Patel’s character as the grandmother adds a new dimension to the play with her new found obsession with betting on horses at the derby races. Her gambling habit extends to her own family whom she is unafraid of fleecing.
She shares a special relationship with her grandson Kunal (Avnish Mehra), an upcoming musician trying to make it in the industry.
The story, filled with subplots seemed to be slightly dragged and slow in the second half of the play, where Anjana confides in her son Kunal about her affair with a man that changed her life, finally giving the play an edge.
Joy Sengupta is most definitely the star of the show.
Playing three characters effortlessly – an auto rickshaw driver, a brigadier and a low level IT employee. He gets the Kannada and Tamil accents just right. Another thing all of the actors managed to do perfectly was picking up the Bangalore accent. You couldn’t tell these were actors from various parts of India.
With a really interesting storyline, the stark differences between the modern city and smaller towns, the play could’ve dug a little deeper into the sacrifices made to live a certain life in a city.
Nonetheless, it is a really enjoyable play with the characters being perfectly cast and the crisp dialogues lined with humour.
I really liked the fact that the play was set in Bangalore, and not in Mumbai or Delhi.