DIRECTED BY PRASHANT PRAKASH and NAYANTARA KOTIAN
STARRING: KALKI KOECHLIN, NEIL BHOOPALAM, GULSHAN DEVIAH, SUHAAS AHUJA, PRERNA CHAWLA, RATNABALI BHATTACHARJEE, VIVEK GOMBER and PRASHANT PRAKASH
Tom Stoppard slaps convention and kills critics with ‘the Real Inspector Hound’. It’s perhaps a mark of who he hates more. Or perhaps not. I’ve always been biased against parodies for the simple reason that I believe they try to play to two different audiences. It’s like how Zack Brown remarks with the intonation of Kevin Smith in ‘Zack and Miri make a Porno’ on how their ‘Star Wh*res’ would cater to both Star Wars nerds as well as those who consume porn in general. Writers have forever leeched upon this thin line separating a satire from a tribute. And in that context, ‘the Real Inspector Hound’, I thought, liked what it scorned, though there were times when it dared to differ.
Two critics discuss a play in progress. One of them gets to be cozy with the fresh faces, the other is still an understudy and laments about it. The two then proceed on separate streams, often crisscrossing in conversation. The former fantasizes about the actress, the latter strays to places sinister. Tom Stoppard deems one critic an infidel and the other a would-be murderer found guilty in intention. Playwrights shall be overjoyed by this concept, critics would arm their fortresses with tongue-in-cheek. Either way, our critics (in the play) then step into the play-within-the-play one after the other, a ‘whodunnit’ that ties both worlds together. And they find themselves confronted by characters than actors in a recurring sequence such that they know what’s happening and yet fulfill the pre-destined plot.
The play-within-the-play goes into a lull when the critics speak, the critics in turn don’t raise a word when a scene is in progress. They’re an orthodox audience at a conventional play. They don’t interject – they summarize. And they succumb where Stoppard wants them to. Yet, ironically, it’s a critic who has the last laugh and snares the effervescent Cynthia (Kalki Koechlin). Maybe that’s indicative of his favouritism towards a select few. Maybe not. I would never know.
Kalki Koechlin reminds me too much of Eva Green. They’re both French, they’re both petite and graceful, sexy and mature, and they both smoke like kettles! This is a dangerous comparison, however, for it throws Koechlin in brighter light than she warrants for. Nevertheless, she’s fairly eye-capturing and her performance effortlessly outclasses the rest, who are more about fake accents and impersonations. There’s barely scope for directorial credit (or set design) either, lest one ought to throw accolades for not destroying the integrity of the play. But the actors did have good comic timing, consistency and stage presence. They kept the play alive and managed to get all their jokes through to the audience. Neat, but doesn't knock you out. Still commendable, right?
The Q&A session after the play had an Elderly enthusiast ask the cast and crew as to why they didn’t ‘Indianize’ the play. I had an even more fundamental question – why perform this in the first place? ‘the Real Inspector Hound’ was a British play written in 1962, while both Prashant as well as Kalki have ‘proven their ability’ in writing their own draft (‘the Skeleton Woman’). It’s an Indian Theatre Festival in 2011 that features foreign plays as well – where’s the burning need to adapt? Just a thought that irked after an entertaining performance. I shall let you ponder upon it, if you would.