Chekov apni kabar mein ulat raha hoga

Pardon the bad translation, but the title of this post vaguely means that Chekov must be turning in his grave. Bad translations seem to be the order of the day, because Chekov in my life at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards was terrible.

If I was mildly disappointed with ‘The Witness for Prosecution‘, a couple of days ago, Chekov in my life, based on Lydia Avilov’s memoirs of the same name, inspired a variety of reactions: from horror (at the bad multi-language translation) to yawning and repeated shaking of the head to stay awake (because of the bad and boring acting) to abrupt laughter (because of the terrible accents).

The play was staged at Sri Ram Center, where all the plays from the ‘Established’ category are being staged. The first play I ever saw outside of school was several years ago at the Sri Ram Center. It was titled ‘Once Upon a Village Earth’, and was scripted and acted in by children who had been through a theatre workshop. I can safely say that that was better than ‘Chekov in my life’. Humor there was intentional.

The storyline of Chekov in my life is familiar enough, and almost predictable: a married woman with a 9 month old baby and a passion for writing meets Anton Chekov at a friends house. They ‘connect’, but she’s a dutiful wife and can’t stay on for long. Later she has a falling out with her boring, bureaucratic and autocratic husband who distances himself from her when she demands a divorce from him for repeatedly disturbing her writing sessions.

During the confrontation, the husband becomes a villain by mispronouncing several English words and phrases (I lhove you from the buttom of my haat), though he does make some amends by using a line made famous by John Travolta in Get Shorty: Look at me. He�s not half as cool, though. After that Lydia meets Chekov again and again, they exchange letters repeatedly without coughing ‘I lhove you’. Lydia is not exactly spoilt for choice but torn between what she is expected to be and what she wants to be. She continues to waver throughout the play.

Chekov leaves her without eating dinner on receiving a non-committal response to his declaration of love for her, after which there is a cryptic and psychotic exchange of messages: Lydia sends Chekov a message by having engraved on a pendant, the page and line number of specific lines from one of his novels. Chekov gets his own back by writing a play based on Lydia which ends with the character representing Chekov in the play-within-the-play quoting line numbers from Lydia�s own manuscript. At this point, members of the audience in the play-within-the-play leave in huff, dissing the play- something that I’m sure members of the real audience wanted to do, because the acting during this part was even worse than the rest of the play.

Chekov falls ill, Lydia meets him a few times; the caricaturish doctor repeatedly warns Chekov not to speak and finally orders Chekov- “Don’t speak. Write.” A telling order, indeed. Chekov does not put flowers brought by Lydia in his own hair. He does not jump up and do the tango with a rose in his mouth, does not get run over by a train, or even tell Lydia that he actually loves Mikhail (Lydia’s husband), and not Lydia. As you can probably tell, I was thoroughly bored by this time, and thinking of spoofs. Hey! Maybe I was wrong all along and this actually was a spoof. Eventually Chekov dies and thankfully the play ends.

Diksha Thakur and Rakhi Mansha, who played the old (the narrator) and young Lydia Avilov respectively were quite all right. Aashish Kumar who played Chekov was pretty good to begin with. Shubro Bhattacharya, who played Mikhail, was terrific in Hindi, but after Mikhail’s fight with Lydia, his acting fell apart. While the Hindi pronunciations were just about perfect, some dialogues were terrible and clich�d.

Where the play really- really– failed, was that it was unnecessarily multi-lingual. Either they should have stuck to a single language, or chosen actors who were fluent with both languages. Most utterances in English were cringe-inducing.

Just to clarify – this isn’t an award winning play! The Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards is a competition and I bet ‘Chekov in my life’ isn’t going to win.

An interesting lineup for today: Peele Scooterwala Aadmi in Hindi and Sammy! in English, that has a Dubey (Lillete, Ira and Neha) studded star-cast. Details here. The theatre was almost empty yesterday (20% attendance?) and you�re likely to easily find place to sit today. Sadly, I won’t be able to watch Peele Scooterwala Aadmi.

Oh, and: I thought his name was written as Tchekhov and Chekhov.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice theatre reviews. Don’t know when I’ll next be able to go to IHC for any cultural event. Have many thousands of words to write on Jaipur, plus zillions of other deadlines (mild exaggeration).

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