'Mahim Junction': A Bollywood potboiler on stage

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By Robin Bansal

New Delhi, Dec 6 (IANS) Projecting the lives of slum-dwellers living next to railway tracks as a window to the state of the nation, Sohaila Kapur's musical "Mahim Junction" draws a portrait of Mumbai with a whirlwind resonance of the golden era of Indian cinema.

Set in idyllic times and wearing the guise of a Bollywood movie of yore; the play - originally called "Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan" - was performed for the first time at the prestigious Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2002.

Written in 1998 by Kapur herself, it was subsequently invited by the British Arts Council to a six-city tour of Britain. This was followed by a successful tour of Singapore.

Rechristened as "Mahim Junction" for its Indian preview to avoid any copyright issues with Nishank Kamat's film "Mumbai Meri Jaan" (2008), the play was staged Friday at an invitees-only gathering at the Ashok's open theatre in association with Shekhar Kapur, Lata Bhasin and The Hungry Heart Festival.

"'Mahim Junction' is a tribute to the simplistic Hindi films of the late 1960s and early 1970s that celebrated life through song and drama. It is an entertaining mix of nostalgia and cinema from a time when heroes wore their hearts on their sleeves and the villains paved the mean streets of Mumbai with gold," Sohaila Kapur told IANS.

"It is a Bollywood film of that era unravelling on stage and with it we are also paying a tribute to the resilient spirit of Mumbai that has been targeted yet again with one of the worst terror strikes," she added.

Added prodcuer Bhasin: "After the recent blasts in Mumbai, the play gave us a little more reason to represent the people about hope and that life has to continue. It also pays homage to the people who live in Mumbai and those who lost their lives (in the Nov 26 attacks)."

Tweaked into contemporary Hinglish from its original English script, the retro fiesta ushers into matters like the politician-gangster nexus, corruption, socialism, trade unionism, communalism, mothers trading their actor-daughters to the producers for money and love and lust through a traditional epic style.

It also focuses on current issues like bomb blasts, terrorism, gay culture, a man's love for a transvestite and NRIs' perception of and disappointment with India.

Supporting the feel of it at the backdrop are Bollywood playback oldies like "Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan", "Aayie Meherbaan", "Taarif Karun Kya Uski..." and references to vamp Bindu's skimpy costumes.

One-liners like "incomplete love stories have the most juice in them", "being gay is sensible", "reel life is worse than the real one", "exploit the people for the people... that's democracy", and "hunger is the poor's another problem apart from population" sardonically comment on the current state of society.

When asked about the unusual new title, Kapur said: "I used to take the Harbour line (of Mumbai's suburban trains) daily while I was working in Mumbai and travel from the VT station to Bandra. And between Mahim and Bandra, there was a slum that grew by the tracks and people literally lived there - on an unused track.

"It was also a kind of encroachment on their part but that was also Mumbai. It has been all encroached upon in the play and the denizens of the 'Mahim Junction' are based on those characters," she explained.

Kapur added that the inspiration for the actors came from Bollywood.

"The characters in the play are all based on some actor or the other from old movies, like Johny Walker, Ajit, Jagdeep, Mehmood, I.S. Johar and Shammi Kapoor to name a few. I've kept the same theme of the actors as in the 1960s - like a drunkard, a male actor playing a girl, an actor playing multiple characters, etc.," she said.

The play will be performed as part of the annual Hungry Heart Festival here this month.

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