Direction : Manoj Shah
Cast : Jay Upadhyay, Pratik Gandhi, Aishwarya Mehta, Vaishakhi Shukla Dave, Nimesh Mehta, Ishaan Doshi, Gopal Parmar, Amit Dhablia, Kalpna Shah, Pradip Vengurlekar


Pratik Kothari

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Manoj Shah has been known to pick up material from earlier centuries and present plays based on it in a way that makes them relevant even today. MASTER MADAM, one of his latest, finds its roots in the Sanskrit play BHAGVADAJUKKAM (attributed to Bodhayana), which is about 1600 years old. Staged initially for the Prithvi Theatre Festival 2013 whose theme this year was world classics, this by far, is one of the first plays based on the concept of body swapping.

The first scene is acted out in mime. We see a monk like person - the 'Master' deep in his meditation accompanied by his shishya who looks least interested in his Guru's techniques. Then walk in two girls and a boy who looks like a prince. The girl runs away searching for something and is followed by another girl, the prince and the shishya. The girl comes back and collapses. The audience is inquisitive about what exactly has happened. It is the God of Death- Yama, who has taken the soul of the 'Madam' away. But Yama has goofed up! He has taken away the wrong soul. And he ends up getting a nice yelling from Chitragupta. What follows is a comedy.


The Master's shishya has managed to rope in disciples of his own to whom he imparts his worldly gyaan! While the Master preaches control, the shishya wants to enjoy worldly pleasures, especially Kama. Fearing the shishya's doom, the Master takes it upon himself to keep his shishya away from lust and as a result he transfers his soul into Vasantsena (the Madam), the same lady whose soul Yama has taken away. When Yama learns about this soul transformation he gets offended and put's the lady's soul back into the Master's body. Hence the souls are exchanged. It is hilarious!

When one works on a classical text, it becomes difficult to make contemporary audiences connect to the characters and the situations. So here the characterisations are modelled in such a way that they break the perceived barrier and the characters speak the way we do today. So you have Yama speaking in colloquial Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and in English too. So does the shishya who is a diehard fan of Swami Rajnikanteshwar and his staple mantra is 'Apdi pode pode pode'.

The most impactful bit in the play is the climax where the bodies and the souls of the 'Master' and the 'Madam' move to a sense of equilibrium. The Master is an epitome of control whereas Madam's job is to satisfy desires. The presentation of this transformation deserves applause.

The play is largely improvised. Crafted well by Neil Johnson, Dr Vijay Pandya, Abhishek Kelkar and Satya Mehta, the play grips you from the start till the end apart from a minor blemish with the entry of Nayantara's mother. This seems forced. Kabir Thakore's backdrop design of the tree and the green clothes are in tune with the geography of the play. Kanhiya's music adds punch to the proceedings while Shekhar Phadke's light design creates different zones and tones. Akash Naik's choreography is graceful. Almost all the cast including Kalpana Shah (Nayantara's mother), Vaishakhi Shukla Dave (Nayantara's sakhi), Gopal Parmar, Kushal Desai, Amit Bhabaria (as disciples), Ishan Doshi (as disciple and the Prince), Nimesh Desai (as Paado) do well. Pradeep Vengurlekar (as Yama) is comical along with Alpesh Dixit (Chitragupta). Aishwarya Mehta (as the Madam) does justice to her part. Jay Upadhyay (as the shishya) is the most enjoyable character; perhaps because he is the most 'human' of all. The actor excels in his role. Pratik Gandhi flows smoothly from Master to Madam!

*Pratik Kothari has a Diploma in Acting from Barry John's acting studio. He has worked with theatre groups like Manoj Shah's Ideas Unlimited and Salim Arif's Essay Communications. He has also acted in films and is currently assistant director on Shyam Benegal's TV Series 'Samvidhan'.

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