A Friend’s Story: Play Review

It’s impossible to think of Indian theatre without thinking of Vijay Tendulkar. After all, very few playwrights have made as much of a contribution to the field as him. When the NCPA chose to revive classic productions, it came as no surprise that they chose to bring one of his most iconic tales to life.

Based on Mitrachi Goshta, A Friend’s Story takes us through Sumitra "Mitra" Dev (Sayalee Phatak) and Shrikant "Bapu" Marathe’s (Abhay Mahajan) turbulent friendship. An unassuming young man, Bapu finally plucks up the courage to talk to the headstrong and enigmatic Mitra. Though he finds himself attracted to her, Bapu quickly finds out that his love isn’t reciprocated… For a reason he could never have imagined. As he is drawn into Mitra’s world – a world filled with identity struggles, obsession and sexual politics, a war wages within our protagonist’s mind. A war that will change the course of both their lives.

The play opens with Bapu’s declaration that you can’t tell a love story in a dispassionate voice. Thankfully, A Friend’s Story practices what it preaches. The moving narration, coupled with the powerful subject matter, makes this production a force to be reckoned with.

The actors’ exemplary performances add to the play’s impact. Sayalee Phatak is remarkable as Mitra, perfectly depicting the character’s inner turmoil. She strikes the perfect balance between strong and vulnerable, keeping her character from ever appearing one-dimensional. In fact, her performance is only rivalled by that of Abhay Mahajan, who delivers a memorable performance. Parna Pethe, who plays Mitra’s romantic interest Nama Deshmukh, is equally noteworthy in her depiction of a young girl torn between two worlds. The three leads are also backed by a supporting cast that is just as good, if not better, than them.

In lesser hands, A Friend’s Story could easily have turned into a sensationalized and crude production. Thankfully, Akash Khurana and the cast do complete justice to the source material and keep it from ever feeling gimmicky. The play, which touches upon topics that are still taboo, does it with tact and sensitivity that is rarely seen on stage anymore. Though the set design and translation are far from perfect, this play gets more right than it does wrong. If you want to watch a poignant and powerful play that wonderfully tackles an unconventional topic, don’t miss A Friend’s Story the next time it’s in town!

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