Mumbai Mirror, Thursday, November 8, 2007

“He’s Got The Chops!”

Call it a play, call it a lec-dem on jazz, Ramu Ramanathan’s ode to Mumbai’s jazz community is darn good stuff

In the first five minutes of Jazz, Ramu Ramanathan’s ode to Bombay’s jazz community, Bugs Bhargava Krishna has you bewitched, bothered and bewildered and having hit the right note never goes off it. His character ensconces the agony and ecstasy of musicians from Goa to Bandra who struggled to play their passions but found themselves at the mercy of some apathetical Bollywood music director or another to take home some bread. The script is packed solid with Naresh Fernandes’s research, facts and figures stacked in tight. The cultural references are not just surface and you get a burnin’ taste of the lifestyle and the ol’ times. But the heart of the piece is the consonance and dissonance of indignation, loss, loneliness, failure and a life jazzed up with the best music man has discovered. That is not to say the play is all schmaltz. Pain is palpable but only behind plenty of bad ass dry irreverent humour. The multiphonics of the writing jams with a real wild live act by 19 year old Rhys Dsouza on the saxophone. 

Etienne Coutinho’s staging and design is clean, simple and pleasing to the eye. The use of the AV with a clever trick or two up its sleeve sophisticates the play. Though if you cast a second look at the neatly arranged instruments, the crystal decanter, sparkling whiskey glass and the stately chair you might find yourself wondering what this character you are now getting so friendly with is doing in this disinfected setting. Where is the clutter of his life? There might be a couple of other distractions as well. The script tends to turn its nose up every once in a while, or as the jazzers would say ‘gets its glasses on’. While the connoisseurs will have no trouble, the uninitiated may find it a little hard to keep up with the music lingo at times. But almost certainly one is likely to forgive the indulgences, that is if one can tear themselves away from the beguiling charms of the actor and his crisp one-liners and notice them at all. Bugs delivers a performance that would make ‘em say, he’s got chops. He plays the script so smooth you’re likely to flip out sooner or later. But the playwright is no less of a star here. This is characteristic Ramanathan stuff, his excitement and deep feeling for his chosen subject spinning about dizzily in the heat between the words and their rhythm. But he hasn’t made it all swing so well in a long time and it is only getting groovier.

As one walked out of the auditorium merrily stirred, stray voices of customary dissent were heard complaining that this is not a play- it is a lecture demonstration on jazz. Even if there is an authoritative definition of a play somewhere that justifies this point of view, all one can say is that if this is a lec-dem it might just be a revolution in education. The point is whatever you want to call it- it is one helluva time, darn good stuff; real hot jazz.  



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