THE GRADUATE (tpot productions)


Neha Shende

Direction : Trishla Patel
Writer : Charles Webb
Cast : Shashank Vishnu Dutt, Kenneth Desai, Digvijay Savant, Kiyomi Mehta, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Fatema Arif, Garima Yajnik, Yash Onil Mavani, Akshay Kulkarni


THE GRADUATE, directed by Trishla Patel and starring Tejaswini Kolhapure as Mrs. Robinson and Shashank Vishnu Dutt as the titular character of Benjamin Braddock is based on the 1963 novel written by Charles Webb, which was adapted by Terry Johnson for the stage. However, when one thinks of The Graduate, it is immediately the 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and never the novel or the play.

The story is about a love triangle, albeit a little more risqué. Benjamin, a fresh college graduate is seduced by an older woman, the wife of his father's business partner Mr. Robinson, and after having an affair with her, meets and falls in love with her daughter Elaine.

Mike Nichols made an iconic film, remembered for its bold premise, beautiful atmospheric music by Simon and Garfunkel and its prominent late 60s counterculture vibes and therefore, comparisons between the play and the film are inevitable.

One can start by examining the casting choices for the primary characters: Anne Bancroft who played Mrs. Robinson in the film was in her mid-thirties, playing a character supposedly in her 40s, showcasing the notoriously rigid age standards for actresses in old Hollywood. Kolhapure, meanwhile, is in her early 40s and much closer to the age of the character. Hoffman played the role of the confused graduate very well, but he looked too old to be fresh out of college. Dutt, however, brings a young, innocent, comical energy to Benjamin, seeming much more believable as the inexperienced, anxious lover boy.

The play is episodic in nature, much like the film it follows, where Patel chooses to use a large screen in the background to tell us where each scene is set. Robert Surtees' wonderful cinematography in the film, with his extreme long shots and pans at Elaine's college and low angles with Mrs. Robinson's long leg in the foreground framing Benjamin in the background when she first seduces him in her home cannot be brought to the stage. However, Patel manages to achieve interesting effects with lights and staging. In one scene, she puts a character under a spotlight at one end of the stage to show they are hiding in a phone booth, in another two characters hold a conversation up the stairs in the aisle to create extended space. Marvin D'souza's costumes with turtlenecks, sunglasses and hairbands are carefully matched to the period and add to the believability of the setting.

The most important choice Patel makes is to incorporate those iconic songs by Simon and Garfunkel in the play. The Sound of Silence, Mrs. Robinson and Scarborough Fair may have been difficult to acquire the rights to, but they form such an essential part of the mood of the film and the 60s in general, that not having them in the play would have been a conspicuous absence.

The play is frothier than its film counterpart, the line delivery bubblier, drawing bigger laughs from the audience, even the scenes between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin are perhaps racier (although choreographed very aesthetically). This tonal shift can perhaps be attributed to nostalgia: we always remember a more exaggerated version of events from our past, a live performance enhancing the brightness.

There are also some additions - not present in the film - that showcase Mrs. Robinson as a woman with more jagged edges, that look at Benjamin and Elaine's romance a little more cynically. Despite these changes, the play never loses the essence of what made the film such a success; it remains a story about the vagaries of young love, full of hilarious sexual innuendo and also sweeping romance.

*Neha Shende is an avid theatre-goer and enjoys watching old Bollywood movies in her free time.

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