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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Blind Date, Review: A ‘play’ upon words, in which the blind lead the blind

Blind Date, Review: A ‘play’ upon words, in which the blind lead the blind

Film and TV professionals got together to present a play at the RangSharda Auditorium, Bandra, Mumbai on August 12, under the title, Blind Date. It was about two blind persons alright, but there was no ‘date’, blind or otherwise. Punning on the concept, actor Pranav Tripathi wrote the original version in Gujarati and got Hindi film, TV and theatre veteran Raman Kumar to translate and adapt it into Hindi. Blind Date has its poignant moments and half a dozen clap-trap scenes, but ends up as a run-of-the-mill offering that does not do full justice to the potential of either its writers or actors.

Why an English title? Only one of the characters can justifiably speak in English, but he speaks fluent Hindi too. You have to watch the ‘sar butt’ scene to understand the justification of the title. Mr. America-returned hero does not know what sharbat (syrupy cold drink) is. The word comes from Hindustani, and is quite commonly used, but this is where his vocabulary fails him, so the heroine’s uncle decides to demonstrate the meaning as if he was playing dumb charade. He breaks up sharbat into sar and butt, sar being the Hindustani word for head and butt meaning what it does, in English. Since this was accepted as a delightfully funny moment by a section of the audience that wanted an encore after the play was over, who am I to crib or add a spoiler?

Why Blind Date? Indeed, why, especially since a blind date is not even mentioned in the play? It is such a common term. Blake Edwards made a comic film with that name in 1987, starring Bruce Willis in his first starring role. There’s a Canadian comedy short film with the same moniker and several plays being staged over the years with the same appellation. Why choose such a common name? A little imagination would surely have unearthed a better title.

What is my headline about? Blind leading the blind? Right you are. The story revolves around Dharaa (meaning the earth), a travel freak who wants to see the whole world, especially the seven wonders. So, she takes up a job as a travel agent-cum-tour leader, a clever idea indeed. She is seeing and thinking about marrying Nisarg (meaning nature, or, in Urdu, qudrat), an engineer who’s dream project is to introduce a bullet train in India, which also happens to be real-life Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi’s pet project.

On a 'date' at a Mumbai beach, Dharaa realises that they are not made for each other, as they have contradicting likes and dislikes. On the way back, due to Nisarg’s negligent driving, their car meets with an accident. And guess what? Dharaa loses her eyesight. Her uncle Bunty recruits a Hanuman (monkey God of Hindus) devotee Pawan (wind), who is himself blind, to help her cope with her handicap. Point is, Pawan is able to move around without any help and even beats up a rogue almost effortlessly. Who better to teach Dharaa to stop moping and start coping? The second act is largely devoted to the blind, illiterate hunk training the blind, depressed Dharaa to live without constant caretaking. There are some more twists coming up, but let’s leave the story right here.

Actor Jay (of TV serial Sasural Genda Phool fame) Soni plays Nisarg with the requisite understatement, most of the time. Cheshta Bhagat (Kuchh Rang Pyaar Ke, Moh Moh Ke Dhaage, Love Ka Hai Intezaar) has a meaty role as Dharaa. She needs to work on her diction and voice projection. A lot of the dialogue she spoke went unheard and a less than satisfying sound system did not help one bit. Her blind act was quite convincing though. Big Boss and Nach Baliye fame actor Pritam Singh as Pawan is as over the top as Pranav (Kahani Main Twist Hain, Kuchh Tum Kaho Kuchh Hum Kahein, I Love You Two) Tripathi is. Pawan is made to play the good-hearted macho, brahmachari (celibate) oaf, while Pranav has the best jokes, if you do not mind his bodily twists and turns and his efforts at convoluted linguistic constructions to save the situation. There include, the afore-mentioned highlight called “sar butt”.

Ani Shah (popular anchor) and Sanjay Bhatiya (Chanakya, Crime Patrol; films Raees, Airlift) play Dharaa’s parents. They indulge in usual nonk-jhonk (banter) and come across as uni-dimensional, their angst and pain at Dharaa’s condition notwithstanding. A couple of bit players are also in the cast, though their names slip my mind now. And that brings us to the producing, writing and direction credits. Harsh Badheka, who has worked in films as an assistant director (Happy Bhag Jayegi, Jia Aur Jia, Love Per Square Foot and the Gujarati remake of the Marathi hit, Ventilator) makes his debut as producer, under the banner of Sakaar Creation. By no means a classic, Blind Date will most likely rake in enough money to keep him going. And Jay Soni, Cheshta Bhagat and Pritam Singh might enjoy their stage-debut enough to carry on.

Pranav Tripathi’s original Gujarati script was based on a story idea by Prakash Panchal, who also provided effective music to both versions. The premise is far-fetched and often executed in an illogical manner. No engineer, Indian-American or otherwise, would be the sole architect of a bullet train project and also be allowed to give it a name of his choice. Why bring in an entire track about Spain when it would be preposterous to tray and pass off Pawan as an Indian Spaniard?

Raman Kumar has been doing theatre since the early 70s and should have brought with him the expertise and experience he has accumulated, working with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), which is a giant on the Hindi theatre scene for about 70 years now. I also doubt his ability to translate a Gujarati play, being quite sure that he does not know the language, let alone the nuances. 

Pranav Tripathi has stated that the team has treated the production of this play “…no less than that of a movie. This play is at a level that is higher than routine plays, in terms of sets, costumes, light and sound.” Well, that rings true for the sets and lights. In terms of content and execution, it was more like 13 episodes of a TV serial, rather than a film. Enter the director, Prasad Khandekar, who was sitting in the pit below the footlights during this première performance. He had the germ of an idea to play with, and a challenge at hand in getting convincing performances from the two ‘blind’ actors. He managed to jolt the audience with the entry of the blind Dharaa, but the ‘step-counting exercises’ were not well-paced. No justification of any kind was provided about the court-jester character of Bunty, and it was naïve to think that the audience would believe the romantic play-acting performed only for the audiences’ benefit. The way he dealt with the seven wonders of the world was laudable. He needs to avoid repeating the lines which keep hammering that those who lose their eye-sight are not blind, rather those who are cruel and close-minded are the truly blind. To be sure, blindness is no virtue. Yes, it can be a lesser handicap if you learn to cope with it, but there is no need to tom-tom ideology.

Blind Date will be staged on Sunday, the 19th of August at Sophia Bhabha Auditorium, Mumbai. Go with modest expectations, and you might even enjoy the play. After all, you have the earth, nature and wind for company.

P.S.: Raman was present in the auditorium but it was heart-rending to see him unable to walk on his own, after the show, needing both a walking stick and a minder to lead him to an auto-rickshaw. He’s not very old, so I guess it is a paralytic condition. I pray for his health.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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