First Ride into Great Success
I could start this piece by writing about a young Ashok, Kishore and Anoop Kumar on stage, but I have a feeling that the under 20 actors won’t appreciate that much. Students of the Salaam Bombay Academy of Dance and Theater these 50 boys and girls are out with their first large Bollywood style showcase a theatrical adaption of Satyen Bose’s Chalti Ka Naam Gadi. The story of Brijmohan, Jagmohan and Manmohan – three brothers who run a garage together, the film was one of Bollywood’s largest box office hits, with women and men across the country humming Ik Ladki Bheegi Bhagi Si and Char Rupaiya Barah Aana all day long with Radio Ceylon.
Adapting such a legend into theater was the real challenge, says director Chittaranjan Tripathi, whose recent Taj Mahal Ka Tender, was a great hit. “Unlike any other play, in this particular play, you won’t find a blackout, so from scene to scene, when you proceed, you actually see it on the screens. This kind of a design has retained that larger than life image of cinema,” he explains one of the special features of the film, where transitions between scenes are shown through bits that the cast and crew filmed, projected onto three screens on stage.
When the team began work on the story of three women-hating brothers, they found the plot with all its comic references, and changes of heart (when two of the brothers fall in love); suspended in history. The music especially, in the lush voices of Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle needed to be worked upon. “The way our music directors have played with the music,” says Norden Sherpa, the choreographer for the musical, “retains the 50s feel, but is yet modernized. And with that the dance sequences are in the exaggerated way of westerns with jazz, contemporary, acrobatics kind of stuff, (that retains the energy needed for performances today).” Privileged to witness one of the opening dance sequences, I see children of all sizes, in all kinds of costumes effortlessly moving from step to pose, making me marvel at their talent.
Admitted through a selection process into a three year completely free, scholarship, these underprivileged children come from some of the most neglected, prejudiced and impoverished localities of Mumbai. Ranging between ages of 14 to 20, balancing school, work, parents, and other problems they turned up for rehearsals every day, staying till late in the night learning 60 pages worth lines in less than 15 days. Rahul Kale (20), who plays the dreamy, distant middle brother Jagmohan, was suffering from a stone, which produced days of pain. He didn’t think he could do a role as doctors had advised him to complete rest. But passion rose above all. “I originally just wanted to do some production work,” says the actor, who didn’t want to bite a bigger piece than he could manage, “but then the auditions happened. I watched the film, sir asked me to think about the role, think about how my character would talk, live, eat, and yeah, things worked out.”
But passion and talent apart, these adolescents also suffer from common problems like insecurity and lack of confidence. Adesh Janjal who plays Ashok Kumar says that thought he doesn’t relate to Manmohan’s quick-tempered ways, he does understand not getting along with girls. We laugh, and he goes on to tell me that he mostly wants to play villains, “Strong co-actors and villains.” “The grey ones with a backstory, because they need to look hefty with a personality.” He completes, implying a little sadly that he doesn’t think that he has the ‘looks’ that one requires to bag the lead role of the romantic hero.
The real star of the play though, is Rajkumar Salve (18), lead actor, who famously refuses to step into Kishore Kumar’s footsteps. With a start to the conversation in which he tells me that flirting is good for the heart, Salve, outlines the challenges of acting out a blooming romance with the 14-year-old Sakshi Suresh, who plays Renu (Madhubala in the original). The love interest of his character Manmohan, Renu drives into the brothers’ garage one day scolding Manmohan for sleeping on the job, and finally driving away without paying him. Manmohan, irked by the woman, decides to claim his money, when he realizes that she’s left her wallet behind. The decision to return the wallet and claim his money from it, takes the brothers on an exciting ride of love, music and fighting the bad guys.
The way Salve talks is passionate, fluent and ever-so confident. A little-too-thin, with sharp cheekbones, I am truly impressed by the way in which he carries himself, the confidence, and alacrity tells of great beginnings. “The challenge was to win her trust,” he continues about the 14-year-old Suresh in what can be only described as an adolescent struggle of heart, outlining a series of incidents between him and his young co-actor that has led to the mistrust in the first place. I listen, amused to his story of how Renu called him ‘bhaiya’, to which he asked her to use his name, since when the pretty-little girl has been ever suspicious, and later cold and distant (The briefest summary of the whole saga, I assure you, ladies and Gents!)
Seated in the dark Rang Sharda Theatre, with actors and production units milling about the place; the lights glint in Salve’s eyes as he describes the whole thing with practiced nonchalance, but under it all I see a slightly hurt ego, and the beginnings of a star, who could be, in a few years giving interviews for Filmfare and Stardust.
When the academy was first started the founders had only humble beginnings in mind. Now, as I talk to Rajashree Kadam, the Vice President for Skill Development, I sense her heady joy, and her pride at organizing such a tremendous show. People across Mumbai have been appreciating this, she tells me smiling about how talented all her children are.
Describing this talent that the children showcase in a few simple words is not possible. It’s something you have to see for yourselves. With hearts on fire, and sheer determination, these young stars reconstruct the romance and magic of ’58 all over again. Only, this time’s its better.
Chalti ka Naam Gadi shows for one last time today evening at Rang Sharda, Bandra. Log on to www.bookmyshow.com to buy tickets. You’ve hurrah-ed enough for billionaire actors. Now join these little actors’ first step into the world from their humble beginnings.
Disclaimer: All photographs are the property of Satish Malavade of Mumbai Mirror