Chalta Phirta Bambai in Vadodara

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 “Jeni niyat saari, eni niyati hamesha saari” (One whose intentions are good, his/her destiny is always good) – was a takeaway from an interview of Abhinay Banker, the Writer-Director of ‘Chalta Phirta Bambai’, which I read online, thanks to my incurable habit of ‘researching’ well before watching a film or play.

This line was enough to convince me that I was in for some ‘enlightened’ time, apart from the fact of being an ardent fan of Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto, and Abhinay Banker (After watching his commendable performance in the Gujarati film, ‘Kevi Rite Jaish’ directed by Abhishek Jain and Gujarati play, ‘Welcome Zindagi’ directed by Soumya Joshi).

The strains of ‘Chaudhvi ka chaand ho’ followed by a well-choreographed title song is quite a befitting way of opening this awe-inspiring 90-minute play called ‘Chalta Phirta Bambai’. The sutradhaar i.e. narrator of this play, Saadat Hassan Manto (Played to perfection by Ankit Chandrashekhar) handholds the audience to the grim and grimy world of Bombay chawls (The story is set in the 70s, way before we were forced to call this city of dreams ‘Mumbai’ – The only ‘mistake’ one could find was a guy mimics Mithun Chakraborty with a ‘Koi Shaqq?’ Wasn’t ‘Commando’ released in 1988?).

The writer dwelled in this chawl near red light area and drew his inspirations from a motley of people inhabiting it – right from the beedi-makers, prostitutes, Irani restaurant waalas, spot boys in guise of film directors, and other chawl dwellers queuing up at the loos and potable water taps.

“Mein daastaanein nahin likhta, daastaanein mujhe likhti hain” (I don’t write stories, the stories write me) concludes Manto and gently takes us to the world of 3 women trapped in the ‘business’ of prostitution. These stories resonate with Manto’s essay, ‘Women and the Film Industry’, where he writes:

‘Women aren’t born prostitutes but are either forced to become them or choose to be them on their own. Demand always spurs supply – because men lust after women without regard to who they are, you’ll find prostitutes everywhere. If men stopped desiring women, then prostitution would disappear by itself.’

The first story, ‘Dus Rupaiye’ invoked an almost-forgotten memory. Few days back, I was on my way to the office and stopped by at a petrol pump for a refuel. As I awaited my turn, I noticed a girl opposite me trying to open the petrol tank of her Scooty. The petrol attendant was busy staring at her, in a desperate attempt to chance upon the perfect ‘view’, if you know what I mean. Well, the girl did notice, but ignored.

The moment she handed over her Debit Card and was about to enter the Pin Number, the same guy leeching at her few minutes ago was quick to shift his glance, ensuring that he wasn’t ‘seeing’ the forbidden four digits.

This banal stolen glance left me amused at the way men lust for figures and revere numbers. It stirred up some profound insights, conveniently aborted as I resumed my commute to earn my daily bread.

This incident revisited me at end of ‘Dus Rupaiye’, when the three drunk men who picked up a teenaged girl for a ‘ride’ were left dumbfounded (Sorry, won’t reveal why, for that you’ll have to either read up the story or watch the play). Before you could revel in your ‘paisa-vasool’ moment (for me it was ‘time-vasool’ as there was no paisa involved, courtesy dear friend, Jay Merchant), the play surprises you with yet another story, ‘Siraaj’.

‘Siraaj’ is about a woman’s vengeance against the man who married her in Lahore and dumped her in Bambai, leaving her to fend for herself in the filthy world of prostitution. Viral Nayak, the actor who played ‘Dhundu’, the pimp deserves a special mention, especially for his dialogue delivery, Dev Anandisque carefree gait and street-smart charm.

Manto’s version of ‘Sunset Boulevard’, the last story, ‘Hataq’ leaves a lump in the throat. The entire credit goes to Brinda Trivedi, who beautifully essayed the role of an aging prostitute, ably supported by Harsh Thakkar, who played the pimp. There’s a scene where actor Brinda Trivedi beats the pulp out of a Hawaldaar, with so much intensity that the stick breaks.

Such intensity is reflected across every actor’s performance, breaking many a sticks of mediocrity, which we watch in films and TV these days. Pity, that we don’t have much plays staged here, unlike Bambai oops Mumbai. But with initiatives like ‘Manch Parva’, Vadodara might soon have an active ‘play-watching’ culture.

Any further description of this play will be criminal and I strongly recommend you to watch ‘Chalta Phirta Bambai’ on stage replete with ‘rains’, ‘chaata’, ‘scooter’, ‘motorcar’, ‘handcart’, ‘posters’ and also a ‘human dog’ – Bambai straight from the seventies for you. Thanks Abhinay Banker and Manch Parva for those wonderful 90 minutes called ‘Chalta Phirta Bambai’. I am still in that world you created and coming back doesn’t seem to be an option. Writer-Director Abhinay Banker, 30 amazing actors, and 10 diligent backstage artists take a bow.

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