16 Aug 2015 16:13 IST

Urban but not humane

In "The Siddhus of Upper Juhu", the struggle of living in big cities was craftily cloaked in wit and humour

Under the auspices of Aadyam-Aditya Birla Group, Rage Theatre presented “The Siddhus of Upper Juhu” this past week at Kamani auditorium. It was noteworthy for its lively humour evoked out of trials and tribulations being faced by the middle class in Mumbai. But beneath the comic surface it is a severe indictment of the kind of life big cities offer to people. Directed by Rahul da Cunha, the Mumbai-based theatre group captures the life of a couple living in a flat in a multi-storey building, Mumbai. The husband, 50-year-old, is working in a private organisation and the wife looks after household chores having left her job to look after her children. Out of their interactions about day-to-day life, the director has created comedy with remarkable effect.

The entire action takes place in the drawing room of the couple. All the members of the Siddhus family arrive simultaneously in the room behaving in a funny manner. At times incongruous situations are created which evoke laughter loud and long. In a way this is a domestic comedy which attempts to explore the fragility of family ties in the second half. In the Siddhu family there are two who have assembled at the flat of Balvinder in Upper Juhu who is suffering from nervous breakdown caused by removal from service at the age of 50. Fired from his job, Balvinder is having a nervous breakdown. On hearing this Siddhus relatives – two brothers and two sisters — gather at his flat.

But the core of the play is to depict the life of humanity condemned to live in urban chaos and getting lost in the concrete jungle. Living in a flat in a high rise buildings is a nightmare. The supply of water stops abruptly. So is the supply of electricity. The stray dogs keep on barking during the nights.

At another level, the director highlights economic insecurity in metropolis faced by the middle-aged men who live in constant fear of losing their job. This is exactly what happened to Balvinder Siddhu who has worked for the company with single-minded devotion. An unemployed Balvinder faces a blank future with no chance of reemployment.

The director paints the picture of the couple as adorable. Balvinder's wife Behroze is compassionate and cooperative. To mitigate the financial hardship of the family, she once again starts working but she is keen to attend her ailing husband and does everything to keep him in good humour. The treatment, he is undergoing, is very costly.

In the play there are some incongruous situations like the ones where Balvinder and his wife retaliate to their belligerent neighbours living in the upper floor who drench them by throwing water. There is another scene where the thieves have taken away most of the belongings of the house including the shaving kit, toothpaste, saridon tablets and the kitchen money kept inside a book. How thieves enter the house is also quite comic. Behroze goes out for a while leaving the flat unlocked. These scenes are treated with a touch of farce, offering some hilarious moments to the audience.

Xheight Design has aptly conceived the set with an exit door opening upstage with backdrop for the action. The properties are placed to create the right ambience. The kitchen is placed in centre upstage, in full view of the audience. There is a balcony, which assumes a significant place for this is the place from where the couple confronts their neighbours living upper floor. The neigbours are not visible but the illusion is created that they are close to the couple whose body language and tone of the voice become belligerent.The couple live in an environment where there is no security, the manager of the society is callous, the supply of electricity is erratic and the neighbours are hostile. During the night the couple cannot sleep because the neighbours make cacophonous noises That it is an empty life is symbolically reflected by a huge empty drum the couple carries to place it in the balcony, hoping that it be filled by the rain water. In between the change of scenes there is an offstage announcement by radio host which is a satirical comment on the prevailing garbage and the chaotic condition of roads in Mumbai.

The performers display high professional standards. Rajit Kapur, a well-known film, television and stage personality, in the role of Balvinder Siddhu brings to the fore various facets of his character. He is eminently comic in all the situations. Shernaz Patel as Behroze, the wife of Balvinder Siddhu acts in a natural manner, investing to her portrait with the emotional turbulence and mental anxieties of a loving and caring wife whose husband has lost his job and suffering from mental ailment. As Behroze confronts various situations, comic as well as serious the audience empathises with her. Shishir Sharma’s Surinder Siddhu, nurses the hurt feelings of being ignored by the family and remained starved of love in his childhood and now he has made good and is ready to help out his ailing brother.

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