Mumbai Mirror, Saturday, October 20, 2007
Bombay Black by Anosh Irani explores Mumbai’s seamy underbelly and, predictably, ends up in it’s red light district
Anosh Irani’s Bombay Black (directed by Anahita Uberoi) chooses to explore Mumbai’s seamy underbelly and like most such explorations leads predictably to its red light district. The action opens in a small apartment where Apsara (Radhika Apte), a mujra dancer, stays with her mother and agent (Meenal Patel). She is expecting a client as usual, only this one is blind. The rest of the play is about why this blind man wants to “see” her dance. The suspense is neither built nor revealed craftily. In any case what is to be revealed is hardly substantial or surprising. The plotline is skeletal. The characters are sketchier. Apsara is a stock victimized woman and Kamal a generic lover. The mother, with a mad fury wrapped well under seeming regularities is the only character with some detailing. Fortunately soon after Kamal’s arrival the play begins to manifest fantastical leanings and begins to flesh some scarcities out. The attempted poetry of language is engaging as are the indulged metaphors. The allusions to mythology sharpen the contrast. Of its two central themes, love and revenge, the latter is treated rather shoddily. The play does not even begin to make any point about revenge and its inherent physiology and ethics. Love finds more flavour in the script. It is romantic, innocent and ideal much like its messenger Kamal and brings much warmth. Shreyas Pandit’s stirring performance adds to that. As a tiny celebration of love and associated imagery, the play might have had enough soul, but it is easily let down by its own ambition. The frequent switches between reality and imagination, gentle emotion and dark brutality are tiring and serve no one end entirely. Very potent ideas of philosophical blindness and a blind man experiencing dance are left unutilized as is the setting of the characters in a Mujra lane. Apsara could well have been a call centre employee in the story without taking or adding much to it. A large swing on stage right occupies much of the created space and is used well in the real and fantastical scenes becoming an emblem of sorts of the bridge in-between. In the end it interplays with clever lighting to transform into a lasting image of hope and beauty.
Bombay Black is a reference to an inferior grade of hashish cheaply and readily available in the city. It is not the real thing but can give you a mild high if it does not make you ill. The metaphor unwittingly lends itself more to the play than its subject.