Manu Joseph’s debut novel Serious Men is the type of book that doesn’t lend itself well to theatre — heavy on characters, slow-moving plot and a penchant for vagueness. Adapting it into a script would be mammoth task. Adapting it and pulling it off successfully is another story altogether. But Nikhila Kesavan, the play’s director and scriptwriter, makes it look so easy that it becomes difficult to remember the complexity of the task.
Performed over the weekend, Madras Players’ adaptation of Serious Men was exactly how a fan of the book would have imagined it to be — quirkily funny and done with a whole lot of heart. Ayyan Mani and Arvind Acharya are two opposite poles on two different spectrums. Ayyan is busy trying to help his wife and son escape their dreary existence in a one room house in Mumbai’s chawl, while Arvind is busy discovering alien life. Both equally brilliant, but set apart due to circumstances.
Arvind’s ruin comes in the form of the only female scientist in the Institute of Theory and Research, Oparna Goshmaulik (Chennai Drama House’s Smrithi Parameswar). Ayyan, on the other hand, is driven by the need to make his apparently ‘genius’ son Aditya Mani famous. One thing leads to another and the dangerous games Ayyan and Arvind play end up going awry.
With artistes in the calibre of PC Ramakrishna, Sarvesh Sridhar, Shankar Sundaram and Kamala Krish up on stage, one need not say anything about the performances. The names speak for themselves. Ramakrishna’s Acharya is equal parts intelligent and equal parts belligerent as the situation demands for it. Sarvesh’s Ayyan, on the other hand, is crisp and sharp as the angry Dalit man who is desperately seeking for an escape.
The other star of the show are the sets, designed by Mahesh Radhakrishnan. They are as simple as it can possibly be, adding more body to the play with its simplicity.
Nikhila Kesavan’s adaptation of the book was quite like the perfectly wrapped gift, complete with a bow. As for the packed audience at Museum Theatre, where it was performed, it didn’t matter if a few references went overhead. For two hours, the audience left their problems behind and instead, engrossed themselves in the lives of Ayyan and Arvind.