Behulas, a new theatre company in Mumbai, opened its first production, Everything Must Go, at St Andrew’s College, Bandra, on Saturday to what troupe members call a “warm” reception of around 300 people, largely drawn by word-of-mouth publicity. The play is an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Price, an intriguing and complex choice for a young theatre group. It is also a defining one.
To begin with, it is not Miller’s best-known play. At a very basic level, the play, set in 1960s New York, seeks to establish the worth of a room full of inherited furniture for two siblings—one a successful surgeon, and the other, a not as successful policeman. The original play, a negotiation of wants, values and stakes, is staged like a financial game. It is a slow play, an invested play, and one in which the action is all behind the scenes.
Not your average Saturday-night Mumbai fare.
Photo: Vivek Venkatraman
Behulas has a four-member core team: Shubrajyoti Barat, producer Behula Manan, Santosh Tiwari and Vikram Phukan. Barat, best known for his stint with theatre troupe Ekjute, directed the debut production based on a Bengali version of Miller’s original that he had seen over 20 years ago. Phukan, who adapted the play, says, “We sat down to brainstorm and realized we wanted to do a play that meant something to us, not something that was required to be done.” They picked The Price based on a belief that it was immensely adaptable to an Indian milieu. “We were very clear that the adaptation was not meant to make the play something it was not. It needed to be a seamless adaptation that stayed true to its genesis,” says Phukan. Adaptations of time and place, from vintage New York to contemporary Mumbai; of people and cultural distinctions, from Gregory Solomon, the 90-year-old Jewish furniture dealer, to Sulaimanbhai, the Jogeshwari-based Muslim furniture dealer from Dongri, played by Sheikh Sami Usman, are some of the leaps this adaptation makes. Solomon, his commercial Jewish identity key to the idea of cost and sale and the value of human life, a large metaphor crucial to the original play, is here modified into a metaphor for another city and another time. In the original, Solomon is the only one of the four players not invested in the outcome beyond a price as a number. Here, to Sulaimanbhai, the sale will be one of the biggest deals he manages to pull off. Harsh Khurana plays Victor D’Souza, the modified policeman Victor Franz, and Satyajit Sharma plays doctor Walter D’Souza.
The language is another key modification.
Photo: Vivek Venkatraman
One of the criticisms of Miller’s original was always that it was a literary, formal language, repetitious and tedious in construction even for its time. In this adaptation, Phukan says they “brought some Hindi, brought some Urdu, kept some of the English”. The Hinglish play modifies some of the details the troupe considered negligible to the larger outcome of its themes.
Phukan says: “Our aim has been that the play should be Arthur Miller’s The Price in every sense. It doesn’t detract organically from the original, and is the work of an invisible hand.”
What is the price of a play? It’s either a foolhardy risk or a brave statement of capital cost for Behulas.
The Price stages next at the Veer Savarkar Hall, in Shivaji Park, Dadar, Mumbai, on 1 July. For information and ticket bookings, call 09920745314 (Behula Manan).