As I walked out of the premiere of Ramu Ramanathan’s new play JAZZ at the Prithvi Festival 2007, I wondered how Shashi Kapoor, who was sitting a few rows ahead of me, would have felt about a play so scathing and mercilessly funny in its indictment of Bollywood. Why didn’t I think about it during the play? Because, like most others in the audience, I was too engrossed by the dry wit of the play to think of much else. The energetic and lively performance by Bhargava Krishna, known popularly as Bugs was perfectly complimented by the crisply, written script with its liberal doses of humour, which ranged from the bawdy to the sophisticated.
Earlier when the play began, I was a little sceptical about the whole element of pre-recorded video clips projected on screen and which were interspersed through the play. However the device not only integrated well with the play, but also added to it. So did most of the live Saxophone performances by the other actor, Rhys D’Souza, who plays the budding student to Bug’s teacher. There is one exception to this though – the Bollywoodish medley at the end seems patched on. However, in a pleasantly subtle touch, the quality of these performances grows with Rhys’ character. While his playing is fairly mechanical in the beginning – when he comes in as a student, he progresses to considerable fluency, which is fully in evidence at the climax.
While the performances aren’t the most nuanced ever, they more than make up in spirit. Ramu’s script with its cunning rhymes is well exploited by Bugs Bhargava Krishna. His sense of timing and exuberant delivery brings to mind the frenzied, swinging beats of classic Jazz, while his descriptions of Jazz itself are evocative without being corny or pseudo philosophical. The tone of the play is casually profound, while being neither preachy nor flippant. Even the historical context of the Jazz age in Bombay, which is the basis of the play does not overwhelm the dramatic narrative. While there is a fair bit of musical terminology – from syncopation to micro-tonality, none of it is detrimental to the lay audiences’ enjoyment of the play.
However one of the few gripes I have about the play is the choice of music for the background score. Being a musical, it could have chosen some real Jazz masterpieces instead of the popish ‘smooth jazz’ that it relies on. And for a play that is celebrating the magic of Jazz, there is curiously little said about one of the core concepts of Jazz – improvisation. It goes by more or less unmentioned. But these minor quibbles do not hinder the play from being what it is meant to be: spirited, intelligent and humorous. And unlike some of the pretentious crap one gets to see, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its easygoing charm and heaps of intelligent humour call for a memorable theatre experience. You walk out of the theatre with a smile on your face.
*The writer is a young student of Banking & Finance, an avid reader and a keen listener of a variety of Music. He has done a course in Theatre Arts as part of his IB diploma program.