Memory Central

While there are mornings, usually Mondays, when I wake up wishing there was a way to shove time under Maa's pashminas in the wardrobe and let it rot with the naphthalene balls, I never wish I was sixteen or eighteen again. Not because I have lofty expectations off anti-ageing creams, but because I want to spare a poor boy the trauma of driving around with a girl who refuses to lock the door on her side of the car.

While you wonder why I would let bits of my closeted skeleton tumble out in this space, if you are 25 and thank god for automobile-philic men you're trying to stifle a giggle. Or if you are 18 and subject to the demands of prim Bengali girlhood, you're giving my shoulder a friendly squeeze in your mind. The characters in Atul Kumar's The Blue Mug manage to elicit exactly similar feelings from its audience as they treat you to slices of their own lives completely theirs, bits jagged around the ends in a way they are bound to leave scratches and some more in your own canvas of emotions.

Memories, downed with just a pinch of humour, can work wonders for your emotional well-being, Kumar would say. So, he freed his play from the binds of a linear narrative, let his actors make the audience privy to snatches of their experiences of taking on life, and sat back to watch how we couldn't help but happily squirm in our seats seeing bits of ourselves unfold on the stage before us.

Juxtaposed with four people (Rajat Kapoor, Munish Bhardwaj, Sheeba Chaddha and Vinay Pathak) recounting their lives was the thread which reinforces the director's belief that memories make us. Konkona Sen Sharma and Ranvir Shorey played a doctor and her patient who has no recollection of life after 1983.

Kumar wraps irony in a shimmery cloud of warmth and humour, and when you are busy swallowing spasms of laughter he leaves you cold on your tracks, with the uneasy feeling of how memories also stare back at you, when all you want is to shut them out. A case in point being Bhardwaj, who leads you onto a crescendo of humour as he relates how he and his brother made regular trips to the crematorium thanks to ageing relatives all around. "Once the man, who was cutting pyre wood for us said he had no change for the eight hundred rupees we had given him. To which, my brother said, it's okay, keep the change. We keep coming back!" Just when you are bent over in your seats wiping tears of laughter away, he ends impassively, 'Five years back, my brother died. And I was alone at the crematorium'. For a moment, Bhardwaj's confession stares back at you with unflinching cruelty, leaves you desperately fumbling for an explanation to justify the wanton bout of laughter that preceded it. In the process Kumar probably achieves in shaking up the comforting blanket of complacence and alienation that keeps us from an arm's length from each other's lives.

Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak and Bhardwaj bring in a heady combination of energy, subtlety and vulnerability that makes the collection of monologues one of the most engaging theatrical experiences in a long time.

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