Bollywood Kee-Maa is a spoof on clichés that make Hindi films what they are - action-romance-drama extravaganzas. “This is about everything you have seen time and again in our films - the plots, the characters and situations - enjoying the familiarity and having a laugh over it,” says the play’s associate director Bhargav Ramakrishnan
And yet to use another film world cliché, the play is different. Bollywood Kee-Maa has been directed by Britisher Gavin Robertson, who was introduced to Bollywood fare only when the production team at Evam got him to sit through Salman Khan’s hit film Dabangg. “He watched snatches of various other films too, but not all at one go,” says Bhargav.
Not surprising since to a Hindi film alien the peculiarities of a masala make might prove too much to swallow, but for those who have grown up on it there’s no better entertainment than the menacing swagger of Vijay a.k.a Amitabh Bachchan, the heroine’s hapless dance to please the mob chief and win her lover’s freedom from his clutches or ek Maa ki pukar. And as Bhargav says, “Bollywood Kee-Maa happened because we love masala films so much,” and not because the team thought that their sometimes ridiculous premises had to be lampooned.
Picking stereotypical circumstances from films made mostly in the 1970s, '80s and '90s - the highlight years of Bollywood tamasha, the 70-minute play is as much a statement on the clichés used in other regional language films. “The larger-than-life hero, heroine in distress, rape scenes and item numbers are used in films throughout India, and they are all there in the play,” says Bhargav.
Bollywood Kee-Maa is back from a staging in Singapore last week, after having premiered in Coimbatore in August and travelling to Cochin and Chennai thereafter. “We balanced the English and Hindi content according what we thought would work well with the audience of each city,” says Bhargav. The play’s show on January 4 at Alliance Francaise in Bangalore will be the first in the city even though Evam is centred here.
About three years ago, Sunil Vishnu K, who co-founded Evam with Karthik Kumar in 2003, was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here, he met with Gavin. “Gavin’s style of theatre is very physical where in he uses minimal steps and props, leaving the rest to the actors and also to the audience’s imagination. Another thing that is Gavin’s speciality is his ability to translate films onto the stage. He has to his credit many film spoofs that he has directed for theatre like 2010 A Space Oddity,” says Bhargav.
Sunil was instantly interested collaborating with Gavin. “When finally the opportunity for one came by it seemed perfectly poised since 2013 is also the centennial year of Indian films,’ says Bhargav.
Matching Gavin’s craft to team Evam’s wish to pay a humourous tribute to the films it has enjoyed over the years, work on the Bollywood Kee-Maa started in June this year.
In the play, Gavin’s design includes five frames within which the actors play out their sequences. The frames are constantly moved about the stage and the many combinations of the frames and the acts within them make for a flowing story where, unlike a typical theatre act, there is no black out.
It is this minimalist approach to the production that has made it easier for it to travel for the seven shows it has had so far.