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May 05, 2017

Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding Goes From Bollywood to Broadway

Text by Saumya Sinha

Everything you need to know about the much-awaited musical

Mira Nair’s bittersweet comedy Monsoon Wedding is all set to make a comeback in the form of a musical on Broadway and our excitement levels are hitting the roof. With an ensemble cast of 20 actors, music by Vishal Bhardwaj and costumes by Arjun Bhasin, the world premiere of the play begins its previews on May 5th at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before it moves to Broadway. “It’s about time that our audiences get a taste of the extraordinary depth of South Asian talent in singing, acting, dancing,” says director Mira Nair. “We have travelled the world looking for such triple threats and happy to say have found them in the unique skill of the extraordinary cast of Monsoon Wedding.”

Ahead of its Berkeley Rep. debut, we catch up with actors Namit Das and Anisha Nagarajan who share their experiences on what it is like to play the unforgettable role of PK Dubey and Alice.

Anisha Nagarajan as Alice

What made you want to be part of the play?
I have grown up watching Mira’s films. She is brilliant and has made our culture accessible to audiences all over the world in an authentic, beautiful, and universal way. Monsoon Wedding has always been one of my favorite films of all time. Mira’s cinematic eye is so elegant, and I am really enjoying watching her vision come to life on the stage. This chance to work with her and the rest of this amazing team of creative minds has been a dream.

Do you have any real-life anecdotes that match up to the story lines in the play?
There was a man who used to work for my husband’s family, and his mannerisms and ways of responding to work when it was given to him with “Yea, sure, no problem, yea, sure, no problem,” is reminiscent of Dubey’s responses of “Your tension, my tension, your daughter, my daughter,” to Lalit in the play! I have always found the relationships between those who live in the house and those who work there to be very interesting. There is an intimacy and still a fine line to tread.

From playing the role of Madhuri in Outsourced to Alice to this current one, what are the most striking differences and similarities you’ve experienced?
I always find a part of me in each of them due to my own past experiences. Madhuri and Alice are both women of a lower class, but still, have a current of strength in them. I think Alice is a lot more forward with her strength and convictions, whereas Madhuri, as we know, is a wallflower who has trouble even telling people her name at a normal volume when she meets them!

Have you, in real life, known or encountered a family like the Vermas’?
I think the Vermas’ is a family akin to families across the world, but they exist in Delhi, so the culture, clothing, traditions reflect that. The beauty of this show and the film is that it gives you tradition and even departure from tradition. It gives you affluent romance and simple romance. There is something for everyone.

What’s next?
Right now, my mind and heart are very much devoted to this show for the next few months at least! A film I was a part of called Jane Wants a Boyfriend was recently released on Showtime and I believe it is available for viewing on demand.

Namit Das as PK Dubey

Tell us a little about the role you are playing?
I play the role of PK Dubey, the event planner which was played by Vijay Raaz in the film. I feel a sense of responsibility when I look back at the movie and see the nuances which Raaz had brought to this character. Dubeyji fondly remembered as the ‘Marigold guy’, has far more shades than just being the funny guy. I feel extremely fortunate to bring him to life on stage. Mira (Nair) keeps stressing that Alice and Dubey’s love is of the most innocent kind…the purest of forms. Hence, they have a Gandharva Vivah where you don’t need material things to validate the union. The flowers are enough to make the two come together.

What drew you to the character of PK Dubey?
It was as if the universe wanted it to happen. Four years ago a friend told me about this musical and also said that I would fit Dubey’s role perfectly. It was a passé conversation which didn’t leave an impression on me but the idea was fascinating. Four years later, here I am, doing this part for Berkley Rep. in a production which by all means should end up on Broadway. The universe always hears you, be careful in sending the right signals.

What are the quirks of Dubey you like most?
I love the fact that our Dubey is a hustler. He is someone who has risen from the lowest point to a place where he can call himself the tent contractor. I don’t think he is hard-working. But he surely makes everyone believe that. Only when he falls in love do you see his vulnerable side. That’s when you see the true human in him.

Can you share some anecdotes from the rehearsals?
I just love the way Mira is making this an Indian musical and each time she stresses on the Punjabi’s and how they behave…I fall laughing because it is true! They are loud, boisterous and lion-hearted…it’s really amazing how Mira keeps all of this real and at the same time stresses on the cliches that exist around us.

Tell us about your offscreen chemistry with the cast?  
I have to say that I got lucky. I have such a fine actor in Anisha Nagarajan who has never made me feel awkward. We connected immediately. She is exceptional and everything seems effortless with her.

When did you first watch Monsoon Wedding and what did you think about the film back then?
It was the first film that I had seen with my first girlfriend in Bandra. I was in college then. I remember we had bunked college since we had nothing much to do and ended up watching this film. I loved it. I was mesmerised by Naseer sahib’s performance and the incident in the end had a lasting impression on my mind. It’s a memorable film with characters who have defined our lives through these years. All of them exist in us. It’s our choice which one we decide to live like.

What were the challenges you faced while playing Dubey’s role?
I think to make him human. Because the way he has been written and the way the audience will respond to him. It would be very easy to fall prey to stereotyping him as a comic character. I think the music helps in this. Vishalji’s score is excellent and the songs make everyone come alive so beautifully.

What’s in the pipeline for you?
There are a few projects lined up back home but all I want to concentrate on is this play. I have never been away from home for such a long time. I miss everyone, but when I think about what I am doing and how beautiful this Monsoon Wedding family is, I let myself flow and let my soul get drenched in the rain!

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