THE UPSHOT
Set in a cosmopolitan housing society, Faezeh Jalali’s screwball comedy, which premiered at the recently concluded Prithvi Theatre Festival, casts a witty lens on religious differences, societal stereotypes, queerness, veganism and the Swacch Bharat movement. At the end of it, you will be left with a busted rib or two.

Director and writer: Faezeh Jalali
Cast: Parna Pethe, Meher Acharia-Dar, Karan Desai, Nidhi Bisht, Gillian Pinto
Language: English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati

The residents of Cosmopolitan CHS make up a typical bunch

A motley group of residents, played to stereotypical perfection by the actors, reside in Cosmopolitan CHS. For instance, the Hindu family, the Jains, is the token vegetarian family in the society. It’s got a pro-Hindutva patriarch (Karan Desai), his son Jaisukh (Abhishek Deswal) who’s romantically involved with their Catholic neighbour Rosie D’Souza (Gillian Pinto), and a grandson Jim (Prajesh Kashyap) who’s flamboyantly gay. The Parsi community is represented by two best friends, Nergis (Meher Acharia-Dar) and Freny (Zinnia Ranji) who live together with their rambunctious dog, Toffee (Fatema Arif). Rosie, a divorcee, lives with her daughter Kristin (Nitya Mathur), a staunch vegan, and son Rodney (Abhishek Chauhan). The group is rounded off by the Sheikhs, a Muslim family of three consisting of a henpecked man (Niketan Sharma), his loud-mouthed wife, Nadira (Nidhi Bisht) and their atheist daughter Nazia (Muskkaan Jaferi). There’s also Arjun (Prajesh Kashyap) and Tina (Chakori Dwivedi), a couple who’ve managed to hoodwink their way into the society by pretending to be married.

They have one thing in common: the maid

This oddball cluster is united by one factor: a common domestic help, Kalpana (Parna Pethe in a standout performance). Acting as the sutradhar of the play, Kalpana is hugely entertaining. She breaks into occasional rap (in Marathi and Hindi), sings, dances, balances the eccentric personalities of Cosmopolitan CHS expertly and is the only voice of reason in the cacophony that ensues when a bone falls in the Jains’s balcony. From there on, the bone is tossed (literally) from one home to another, the residents accusing one another of the transgression. The blame game culminates in an unconventional general body meeting presided by the half Parsi half Hindu Dr Aspi Irani-Ahluwalia (Junaid Khan), the secretary of the society. Kalpana is the only one who knows the truth about the bone.

The director deftly balances multiple stories

The play does a great job of talking about the serious issue of religious and social bias with humour, avoiding the pitfall of sounding like a sermon. There’s a lot going on in the play and Faezeh Jalali deftly wields multiple arcs such as romantic relationships among characters (some will pleasantly surprise you), squabbles over religion, the conservative attitude towards live-in relationships (everyone knows how tough it is for live-in partners to rent) and homophobia (the Parsi aunties are assumed to be gay). Delightfully, the ones you least expect come out in support of the marginalised. As a result, the play is as light as a soufflé but dense with meaning.