Direction : Padma Damodaran & Choiti Ghosh
Cast : Padma Damodaran & Choiti Ghosh

DHAABA Play Review

Deepa Karmalkar

 DHAABA Review
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Welcome to the world of Object Theatre where ordinary objects from home, office and even the street become vehicles of ideas and stories. Branching out of puppetry, this form of theatre has made its presence felt since the 1940s, but its practice in a modern and contemporary form in India, is recent. Tram Arts Trust managed by Choiti Ghosh has been experimenting with this form.

What we have here is a wayside dhaaba that specializes in brinjal dishes – from fried, grilled, boiled to roasted – baingan dishes galore. The two chefs – Didi and Chhoti, snazzily dressed in purple – carry out the cooking ritual with brinjals of all varieties. Long, small, thorny, blobby, pendulous – the vegetable reigns supreme in this kitchen. The pattern of the chefs' organised life gets upset when sacks of 'other' vegetables like potatoes, onions and tomatoes appear on the kitchen shelf one fine day! These vegetables encroach upon their brinjal territory and hell breaks loose in the dhaaba as the era of the brinjal monopoly comes to an end!

The play is inspired by the history of vegetables in India. While brinjal is indigenous to India, other vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes have a foreign origin. The Portuguese brought potatoes to India with them and tomatoes, originally from South America, appear to have travelled to India with traders.

The two nifty chefs are played by Choiti Ghosh and Padma Damodaran. They keep the audience engaged with their deft act and skilled miming. They prance around the kitchen arranging their beloved brinjals in a pyramid; they cook them indulgently and when the foreign vegetables appear – the twosome begins to split steadily. Finally an out and out kitchen war is launched between the two as they brandish their knives and ladles at each other.

Funny and engrossing, the entire act is a novel theatre experience. In this almost silent play, sans dialogue, the body language of the actors, lighting and music play vital roles with the help of an efficient backstage crew. Choiti Ghosh's eloquent expressions pep up the play. From the simple objects like the roll up board used as a menu card to the mixer that heightens the drama of the warring chefs, this is a very smartly directed show. Damodaran's thematic structuring, Sameera Iyengar's dramaturgy, Prasad Walawalkar's set design and Mandar Gokhale's lighting works pat.

Priya John's research is somehow lost in context; a brief introduction about the history of brinjals in India at the outset would be appropriate to put things in the right perspective. I am still curious though to know the fate of all the brinjals that were chopped in the course of the play!

*Deepa Karmalkar is a film and theatre reviewer. She has been an entertainment journalist for over fifteen years.

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