Direction : Rasika Agashe
Writer : Ratnakar Matkari
Cast : Rasika Agashe, Vishakha Subedar, Alok Rajwade, Padmanabh Bind, Shardul Saraf, Sandeep Pathak and others


Deepa Gahlot


A new theatre OTT platform, Nine Rasa, launched by Shreyas Talpade, has a selection of plays that can be watched for a modest subscription. There are just a handful of plays on the channel so far, but hopefully they will add new work from time to time.

In the first bunch of productions is Ratnakar Matkari's Marathi (with English subtitles) play, SAHEBJI DARLING, by Rasika Agashe's group Being Association; she has also directed it and played one of the lead parts.

The play first done in 2002, belongs to the time (pre-Google) when foreign plays were merrily adapted, without giving credit to the original. SAHEBJI DARLING is an Indianised version of Joseph Kesselring's 1939 black comedy, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, which was such a hit, it had several productions over the years, and was also turned into a successful Hollywood film in 1941 directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant.

The plot revolves around two batty sisters, Gullu (Rasika Agashe) and Pheru (Vishakha Subedar), who murder lonely old men by serving them poisoned wine, and get them buried in the basement by their crazy nephew Bomi (Mahendra Walunj), who believes he is in the army and is digging trenches for the war. Their other nephew, Nowsher (Alok Rajwade), is a film and drama critic, who finds movies unrealistic when he is, ironically, in the midst of an unbelievable scenario. The third nephew, whose arrival sparks off all the commotion, is Behram (Padmanabh Bind), a criminal who has surgically altered his face so many times that he looks (and dresses) like Dracula (interestingly Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff-two horror movie legends acted in different stage versions of the original play) and lugs around his alcoholic plastic surgeon Dr Dangat (Shardul Saraf) with him.

If the ancient farce still works, it is because of the razor sharp comic timing of the writing, and the actors, who bring to it the right level of inspired lunacy to the proceedings. Things perk up when Nowsher is trying to work out his romance with a whiny neighbour (Vaishnavi Ratna Prashant), who keeps popping in at inconvenient times and Behram barges in with a corpse in tow, and an enthusiastic cop Panjarpol (Sandeep Pathak) misses all the cues around him, because he has a captive audience for a terrible play that he has written. Also, who could imagine that these two sweet old ladies, could be murderous maniacs. (The name Panjarpol would get a few chuckles from Marathi speakers, because it means animal enclosure or asylum).

The unapologetic amorality of the play is toned down because it is laugh-out-loud funny. The adaptation uses a Parsi backdrop, perhaps because of the widely held (and racist) belief that ‘Bawas' are eccentric. Gullu and Pheru speak Parsi-accented, ungrammatical Marathi, which the two actors manage to maintain throughout.

The play has been shot on a stage, but edited to allow for mid shots, and close-ups, and the addition of a laugh track, mercifully not overdone. The logo of Nine Rasa in the middle of the stage was overkill.

SAHEBJI DARLING is not a great choice to include in the first lot of online productions, when there are so many fine original plays available. They are, however, competing with drama content on other channels, and the programming has to be varied and click-worthy. For its intention to give a leg-up to theatre (as well as other forms of the performing arts) during the pandemic, the company deserves applause and the paying up of the very affordable sign-up fee.

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on
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