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Changing India, changing aspirations – Lilette Dubey brings play to London

Changing India, changing aspirations – Lilette Dubey brings play to London

March 10 2015

Rapid social change is transforming a country with centuries old traditions and the clash between old and new cannot be ignored, says Lilette Dubey…

UNDERSTANDING India is no easy task but then someone’s got to do it.

More seriously – the recent banning in India of the BBC’s “India’s Daughter” documentary, gives some small glimpse of a society in tremendous flux – where old ways of thinking come up against the new and different.

Girish Karnad is one of India’s best known writers and his play, “Boiled Beans on Toast”, which can be seen all this week at Waterman’s in Brentford, is a timely reminder of a society facing many challenges – and all at once.

While it has nothing directly to do with “India’s Daughter”, it does provide a witty and telling account of a society undergoing immense change. Written in English, it was performed to great acclaim in India earlier last year.

The UK production is mounted by an Indian theatre outfit, Primetime Theatre Company (which also produced the Indian original).

A scene from the play 'Boiled Beans on Toast' by Indian playwright, Girish Karnad

Set up almost 25 years ago, its artistic director is Lilette Dubey (pictured above right), one of India’s best known thespians and who has an increasingly strong international presence in film and TV.

Not only can she be seen schmoozing with the Richard Gere character (pictured below) in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, but she is also on our screens in Britain in the Channel 4 colonial blockbuster, “Indian Summers”. Some will also remember her from the Mira Nair film, “Monsoon Wedding”.

“I was utterly shocked by what the lawyers said (in ‘India’s Daughter’),” declared Lilette Dubey, the director of “Boiled Beans on Toast” to “All these people are hanging onto what they think are their traditions and cultures and some of it needs to be re-examined.”

In the documentary about the Delhi rape case, one of defence lawyers for the convicted rapists, says that in ‘Indian culture’, a man and a woman can never be just ‘friends’ and there is ‘no place for a woman within Indian culture’. Another said he would burn his daughter alive in front of relatives, if she was seen out at 7pm with a man.

“The play is not about these things but it is about change,” Dubey pointed out.

“The winds of globalisation have swept the place and as in many parts of India (this play is set in Bangalore or Bengaluru, as it is officially called now) the old and the new live cheek by cheek and people are trying to adjust and fit in with each other.”

There are six different characters all living in the same block, but all occupying very different positions within Indian society.

“It is about these different classes, their aspirations, and how they are trying to survive the city.

“Karnad examines many other aspects, it’s a very entertaining play – it’s not in your face or anything.

“He’s looking at a lot of things, it’s not dramatic in that sense, but free flowing and the characters are bumping up against each other, and there’s a lot of humour. It’s not a comedy but there’s a lot of smiling humour,” she explained to

The title itself is a reference to how Bangalore as a town got its name. Folklore has it that the king of the region in the 11th century, was one day out in the forest, riding and became famished. He found a little hut and an old woman there and asked for some food.

The woman, Dubey explained, had only boiled beans and the King was so hungry, he assented and was so satisfied, he called the place ‘Benda Kalaru’, the place of boiled beans, which later in the local language of Kannada became Bengaluru, then Bangalore, under the British and has now reverted to the Kannada vernacular.

The city has experienced unprecedented growth and has become India’s very own Silicon Valley.

We asked Marigold co-star Dev Patel what was it like working with Lilette Dubey on the film, 'Lillete’s great, she’s great, she’s very flirty which is funny and she’s got that lovely deep husky voice, so we have a real good, funny rapport,' he said (SB)

“It was the first IT hub and is still a huge one – though there are other cities in India now like Hyderabad,” Dubey pointed out.

Acting as magnet, it has pulled in millions, both those with very little and those with education and prospects too.

“All the characters are really fascinating,” said Dubey. “There’s that whole downstairs world of servants and drivers.”

Adapted from the original to give UK audiences a bit more of a handle on the character’s Indian class positions, Dubey said the play is very accessible and relatable and that it was the kind of work she had always sought for Primetime.

“I always wanted a platform for Indian playwrights – our stories, our voices and in English and to tell stories that are universal and relatable. It is also about taking this work abroad and seeing how Indians outside respond to it.”

It’s a rare opportunity and one not to be missed and Dubey herself has become something of icon for the range and scope of roles she has essayed as an actor in recent years – everything from Bollywood to big international products such as “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Indian Summers”.

“At one point in time when I got film offers, it didn’t excite me,” she conceded. “I came to Bombay late when I was in my 40s and I thought, ‘let’s try this’ but the central thing in my life has always remained theatre.

“It’s really about that – follow a passion that you have – and I would not say I’ve excelled at all, but I am saying if there’s a chance to do really well in life, it can only happen with something that you really love and believe in – and whatever you do, how can you even think of being very good at it, if you don’t have that initial passion.”

• ‘Boiled Beans on Toast’ written by Girish Karnad, directed by Lilette Dubey, from Tuesday, March 10- Sunday, March 15 (7.45pm) and Saturday matinee, 3pm. Tickets £15 Box Office: 020 8232 1010

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture