Bombay Jazz: Play Review

"Why don’t Jazz musicians play hide-and-seek?

Because, in this country, no one will go looking for them if they hide!"

Simultaneously witty and tragic, this one-liner sums up the dire state of the jazz scene in the country. It also perfectly sets the tone for Etienne Coutinho’s Bombay Jazz, a tribute to the forgotten jazz greats who called the City of Dreams their home.

Bombay Jazz follows a nameless protagonist (Denzil Smith), who serves as a stand-in for all of the remarkable Jazz musicians of yesteryear. This includes, but isn’t limited to, legends like Sebastian D’Souza, Chris Perry, Mickey Correa, Chic Chocolate and Anthony Gonsalves. The only other character in the play is a young student. Portrayed by Rhys Sebastian Dsouza, he is talented, hopeful and inexperienced, but willing to learn. Under the tutelage of our protagonist, the young man unlocks a world of magic and wonder – Bombay in its greatest musical era.

Through the teacher’s story, we are then shown both the beautiful and the dark side of the lives of the Anglo-Indian musicians who brought jazz to the city. Snippets of his life are interspersed with the student’s quest to learn, making for a riveting tale from start to finish!

Based on research by Naresh Fernandes, the play is a delight for every jazz lover. It sheds light on the many forgotten musicians who are responsible for some of the best songs to come out of our country. From Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu and Eena Meena Deeka to Ajeeb Daastaan Hai Yeh, Bombay Jazz showcases the genre’s influence on Bollywood’s most popular classics. Despite this, the play never feels preachy or educational. It never lectures viewers or inundates them with more information than they can digest. Instead, Bombay Jazz pays tribute to these legends through crisp dialogue, witty rhymes and fine acting. It does this with a respect and adulation that every music lover can relate to.

But don’t let that hold you back. Though the play appeals to jazz aficionados for obvious reasons, its reach goes way beyond just them. In fact, you don’t even need to be a fan of music to enjoy it (though that obviously enhances the experience). Above all, the play is a sincere attempt at honoring the underdogs who shaped Hindi film music for the larger part of three decades. And who doesn’t like the story of an underdog?

Right from the very first scene where our protagonist introduces himself with a rhyme (complete with jazz hands!), it is obvious that this play is every wordsmith’s delight too. Every dialogue, rhyme and wisecrack is worth quoting! It also helps that Denzil Smith delivers each line with a charm and an elan that is nearly unparalleled.

Denzil is wonderfully complemented by Rhys Sebastian Dsouza, who plays the extremely talented young musician. Rhys, whose grandfather Sebastian Dsouza arranged music for Shankar Jaikishan and O. P. Nayyar, brings a sincerity to the stage that we rarely see anymore. Though we don’t get to see a lot of his acting skills, he certainly manages to make a lasting impression. But that’s hardly the highlight of his appearance. Rhys’ skills on the saxophone are almost as impressive as the maestros the play honors. Under the direction of Merlin D’Souza, he singlehandedly holds down the fort when it comes to the music. In fact, viewers are even treated to his rendition of Take Five. And boy, does he do it justice! One particular scene where Rhys partakes in something of a jugalbandi with a video recording of himself will leave you entranced!

All this and more make Bombay Jazz a play that can’t be missed. Whether or not you’re a fan of the genre, this play provides a remarkable insight into the lives and contributions of overlooked jazz legends. Bestrewn with real-life incidents and encounters, Bombay Jazz will make you dig deeper into the genre and give you a newfound appreciation for both Jazz musicians and Bollywood classics.

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