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Bollywood and theater actors Konkona Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey , Rajat Kapoor, Sheeba Chadha and Munish Bharadwaj came together on stage at the Rialto on May 14th in a theatrical performance, The Blue Mug. Directed by Atul Kumar, the Blue Mug, an experimental, devised piece of theater, is on a tour of the US to benefit Operation Asha, an organization that is focused on the eradication of tuberculosis in India.
Devised theater is where the script comes, not from the writer, but from the group of performers themselves. In the case of Blue Mug, the script is partly a collection of loosely structured memories of four of the six performers. Vinay Pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Sheeba Chadha and Munish Bharadwaj go down the path of their personal memories, struggling to construct themselves on the basis of what they remember. They narrate childhood memories, adolescent memories, dark memories, memories of joyous occasions- memories that reflect the social, political and cultural ethos of post-colonial India.
The other thread of the play is based on the book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat” by neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, where a doctor (Konkona) evaluates the journey of her 40-year old patient (Ranvir Shorey) who suffers from immediate memory loss, but can remember his life up to his 20th birthday. The patient’s journey from Punjab to Mumbai is depicted in a hilarious, yet poignant narration of his memories.
Experimental theater is not always enjoyable. The collection of memories did not culminate into a climax. There was no obvious message. But the actors brought the devised, improvised script so much to life that the Blue Mug struck a cord with the audience. The production values were excellent. The lighting and the use of physical space by the actors were impressive.
While all six actors were performed effortlessly, Vinay Pathak stood out for his abundant energy and wit. He was obviously enjoying every bit of his time on stage. Ranvir Shorey was hilarious as the Punjabi patient with memory loss. Konkona did a decent job in her first theatrical performance, but one expected a more challenging role of the Bollywood star.
Dr. Shelly Batra, president of Operation Asha, in her address, exhorted the audience to be part of the organization’s fight against TB in India. “TB is the child of poverty,” she said. “It is one of the biggest causes of disruption of families, economic loss, and violation of human rights.”
The irony, she said, is that TB is curable. Despite this, the number of TB related deaths in India are horrifying. Operation Asha has been treating the poorest of those affected, at minimum cost, by using the existing public infrastructure.
“I invite you to become a part of this movement,” she said.
Atlanta promoter Mustafa Ajmeri said he was happy with the large turnout, and the support of the Atlanta public for a noble cause. Paddy Sharma was the master of ceremonies.