The only thing worse than being old is feeling old, and Madhukar Kulkarni won't
be guilty of both. The septuagenarian can be reached on any of a high, a moral
highground, and a parkbench that has a high price for taking his weight (monetarily
anything from Rs. 10 to Rs. 40 depending on the equation with Peter The Goon,
but higher for people on moral highgrounds and on a high enough to challenge him).
Reach him, however, on the bench, and he takes you on the other two. For, Mr. Kulkarni's energy is infectious, and so are his emanations. Oh yes, in the process he can also make a joke. Of a co-septuagenarian and reluctant-partner-in-crime, of himself, of assorted geriophobes, and of a society for which life till retirement is just pre-senility. And it has you in splits.
If all that has made you want to know Mr. Kulkarni better, it may just be too late. No, he's very much alive - "Death is monotonous" - but his visit to Hyderabad was short-lived. He was here just for the screening of "I'm Not Bajirao", a superb play by RAGE, presented by Seagram's Blenders' Pride. And along with the rest of a huge and delighted elite crowd at the ITC Kakatiya, he enjoyed the play, too. He's done it over 100 times so far, so that should be obvious.
"I'm Not Bajirao" is a brilliantly conceptualized tale of two old men, the brisk Madhukar Kulkarni and the grumpy Dhunjisha Batliwalla, who meet in a park in Dadar every evening and bitch at at the world in general and at each other in particular. Kulkarni is an ex-freedom fighter with rigid principles and strong views, and Batliwala is a Parsi building secretary being threatened with eviction from the very building that he's served for 40 years.
Most of the first half is about the musings of two aged gentlemen (well, "gentle" except when they're fighting goons) who find themselves in a society that considers them mostly relics. And it is here that you find that theater can actually be good. Excellent dialogues combined with outstanding emoting by the two protagonists make the conversations sidesplitting and yet thought-provoking every once in a while.
The rest of the world will not leave well enough alone for the old men, and it's the same the other way round, too. And so the 120-minute drama sees them get into, win and lose a battle with Sohrab "Sam" Master, the new head of Batliwala's building society; Kulkarni beaten up by Peter, the goon who "owns" the park bench, for refusing pay up the "rent" for it; and Batliwala beaten up by Kambli, a money-lending don from whom the duo tries to protect the petite Lalita who they see being terrorized by Kambli in the park.
The play stays continuously and originally light-hearted, and flaunts exceptional performances by Sudhir Joshi as Kulkarni and Boman Irani as Batliwala. Sohrab Ardeshir (Sohrab "Sam" Master), Kunal Roy Kapoor (Peter), Dilnaz Irani (Lalita Swamy), Archana Patankar (Smita, Madhukar's daughter) and Kunal Vijayakar (Kambli) deliver good performances, too.
The accents are perfect Inglish, and the Marathi drifts every once in a while bring enormous credibility to this play born and brought up in Mumbai. Eliciting a standing ovation from the haute de la haute of town was perhaps just a side-effect. Life is a spiral with old age being a culmination when everyone else seems to be getting farther away faster, and the play takes you into the circle of a people for whom self-esteem must be a sweet memory.