Makarand Deshpande is by no means an underrated personality in his trade. But after the screenings of Joke and Miss Beautiful at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, one does wish they could see more of him.
An excellent writer and director, not many know that Mr Deshpande also happens to be quite fit – physically, as is seen when he takes his shirt off in Joke. That he casts himself as the lead in both plays can be held against him on charges of narcissism, but the golden question to be answered is could he have possibly found someone to feel those roles as well as well as he did?
Both plays involve a series of events and situations that Mr Deshpande has conjured from ideas that aim to question certain aspects of life and society.
Joke is the story of Sandeep Joshi, a “habitual Hindu” who converts to atheism despite protests from his wife, and Sathphule, a police havaldar and a pandit, whose life eventually intertwines with his in the course of Joshi’s search for the Pari (fairy), who exchanged his milk teeth for toffees.
Miss Beautiful deals with the last days in the lives of Kusum and Vinayak Joshi, a hard working middle class couple who have been married for 55 years and their son, Sheeresh who wonders whether he can giving them a beautiful deaths by bringing home Miss Beautiful.
Mr Deshpande is an extremely creative director as is evident from the strategic use of the stage, minimalist sets and metaphoric mood lighting. Evidently his Marathi background hasn’t at all been a setback to his ability to write exchanges in Hindi. What’s quite upright is that the scripts, unlike mass television shows, movies and plays, don’t use the infected mix of Hinglish – but have dialogues that are purely in Hindi interspersed with a few lines in English. Really, it’s like having a good Hindi lesson after ages.
Expect to leave with several morals and motives about old age questioned as Miss Beautiful’s finale brings you to tears. Also, be prepared to ponder over why can’t one celebrate the death of ill and ailing parents the same way they celebrated our births.
Joke is filled with humour and adventure. Also revel with cameos made by Gods such as Krishna and Kaali. This play also questions the sanctity of mass religious practices in India and compares them with a mob, threatening believers with smites and bad luck instead of knives and guns.
Of course, if there is any one downfall to these productions its their duration. Two hours and 45 minutes for any play with a wafer thin story line is just too long. Why spend the first half establishing an idea and the remainder dragging it on? It leads to nothing but a discomfort caused in the middle and lower areas of one’s back when plots at Prithvi Theatre refuse to progress.
Regardless, both plays are worthy of a watch for the serious topics they present with humour, drama and ideas (not stories) that are current, revealing and relevant.