Actors usually make their way from the stage to the screen. After years of struggling in the theatre industry (and I say struggling for those who use it as a platform before they move onto greener pastures), some manage to get their big break, some are resigned to a life on stage, and others still can’t decide between art and ambition. But it is uncommon to have heard of actors who have tried their hand at Bollywood, failed to make a mark, and later moved to theatre. Until now. Jeff Goldberg’s play Riddles (previously known as Six) stars Prateik Babbar and Jackky Bhagnani, who makes his debut on stage. Son of veteran actor Raj Babbar, Prateik was last seen on screen in the 2015 comedy drama, Umrika, while Bhagnani appeared in Welcome 2 Karachi in the same year. The two have not been idle in this two-year drought, working with Jeff to open the play in his famous studio in Bandra.
Riddles is a romantic drama, or rather a tragedy. The play opens to Babbar’s character Siddhant lounging in his living room, downing one glass of whiskey or champagne (the bottle said Chandon, but it is a whiskey glass, so take your pick) after another. He is joined by his lover Manoj (Vikas Mandaliya) who is smoking a cigarette next to him. Siddhant is clearly hurt, with bandages spread over his face and body. There is a sense of boredom in the room, which is broken by Rahul (Jackky Bhagnani) entering. Rahul arrives to meet Siddhant, after hearing that he was in an accident. Sidhhant does not reciprocate his concerned feelings, continuing to drink. There is clearly a lot of love lost between the two former lovers. After goading Rahul, which seems to be his favorite past-time, Manoj leaves the ex-lovers to hash out their differences. There is no progression to the story, but the real cause of Siddhant’s injuries and Rahul’s decision to end their relationship is revealed. It ends with the lovers parting ways again, one full of regrets, and the other finally being able to let go.
Riddles is very likely to attract audiences, not just because of it star cast, but also the controversial content. And yet, Jeff Goldberg’s Studio seats a mere 20 people, in a very compact and claustrophobic space. If you are in the front rows, you are barely a few meters away from the actors. And yet, in this tiny black box, with two microphones placed near the actors’ feet, you are likely to miss out most of the dialogues. Bhagnani’s lines are inaudible, while Babbar’s monotone dulls towards the end of the play. Vikas Mandaliya provides some comic relief with his quick insults and hurtful jabs, all pointed at Rahul, and his exit in the middle of the play is sorely missed in the second half.
Even with its controversial content, Riddles does not manage to evoke emotions. There are some laughs in the beginning, thanks to Mandaliya, which soon fade away. With no progression to the story, the play just seems to drag on. There is no sense of fulfillment or satisfaction towards the end of the play, which even an open-ended or unhappy ending can bring. Expectations are not met, and the actors do little to make up for it. Prateik Babbar makes a number of flaws, shifting his injured leg from the right to the left and back again, his movements being mostly redundant. The lack of space makes it difficult for the actors to have much movement anyway, with them occasionally moving the floor microphones, and even knocking over props. Overall, the play is worth a watch only to see these actors on stage, but if you are a theatre lover, you might be left disappointed.
Despite the lack of promotion, many celebrities have flocked over to Bandra to catch a show of Riddles over the weekend. There aren’t any upcoming shows but you can keep an eye out on BookMyShow to know when it would be staged in your city again.