Prologue: Even in laid back Silicon Valley, the arrival of The Blue Mug was big news. Breathless emails were exchanged about the date, rueful regrets were broadcast about not being able to score tickets, and in general, a frisson of excitement rippled through the area, thanks to the amazing cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak, among others – the new wave of “actors” in an otherwise scorned Bollywwood pantheon.
So the lobby outside Malavalli Hall (India Community Center, Milpitas) on Saturday was packed to stifling, and I mean that literally. Asked to arrive at 7:30 for the show opening at 8, even typically tardy desis showed up punctually, only to wait..and wait..and wait. There was a crush at the ticket redemption tables, the sides of the already small lobby were lined with tables for vendors and non-profit organizations, and the doors to the venue stubbornly stayed shut. The good-humored crowd slowly became restless, and progressively uncomfortable.
As it turns out, the delay was probably because some good-for-nothing promoters were placing pamphlets of upcoming events and ads on the chairs. When the doors finally opened at a quarter to 9, the crowd’s boiling point had just about been reached, and the mood did not improve when we saw how closely the folding chairs were packed together. Worse than an airplane setup, our knees squeezed together, and butts cuddled, and necks craned in uncomfortable positions to find a vantage point to see the stage.
Let’s face it, Malavalli Hall is not meant for plays. ICC, stop hiring it out for events like these – it is a disservice to both the actors and the audience. Not having a slope means that any activities below eye level are invisible to all except the first few rows.
Despite the delay, the organizers decided to continue with the scheduled program, an opening act by Project Pulse. An idiotic decision, given the angry sentiments of the crowd at this point; the dancers almost got booed off the stage (sorry guys, but your performance was not up to par either, not that I can blame you). When the emcee came up to make more announcements, one could almost sense the vibration of pitchforks; my husband and I cast nervous eyes around for the nearest exit, in case of a riot.
Eventually the play began, and things settled down, even after the disclosure that Konkona was ill and could not be a part of the show.
The Play: The Blue Mug is an experimental sort of play. It does not have a story, being a series of monologual vignettes about remembering and forgetting. The existential question it asks is, “Are we a sum of our memories?” Actors take turns to reminisce, weaving in and out of the stage to tell their unique stories. There are enough autobiographical touches thrown in to seamlessly blend truth and fiction, till it feels that you have been invited into their lives. I found that their recalled memories fired up my own synapses, throwing up moments from my past, as I listened to the players.
It works beautifully, though for it to make the maximum impact the viewer has to be Hindi/English bilingual and have a distinctly north Indian background. Having grown up in Kanpur, I could instantly identify with the stories, though I am not sure how those south of the Vindhyas reacted to it.
Above all, The Blue Mug is a master class in acting. Though Rajat Kapoor, Shorey, and Pathak are the star names, the other actors do as fine a job. Each performance is pitch perfect and completely engrossing. The play is only about 75 minutes long, but every minute is a theater lover’s treat. This is a great touring play, since there are no props involved, and I believe there are more shows scheduled throughout the United States.
If yours is one of the lucky cities to stage it, be sure to check it out. And here’s hoping the organizers have a little more respect for their audience this time.