October 1 2014
New play has fine comedy moments and is entertaining fare, but perhaps lacks weight, even with an Indian icon in a lead role…
By Devika Banerjee
IN FRONT of the audience, at first, is a sparkling new kitchen.
The lights go down, a middle class Sikh migrant, Tejpal, played by the famous Indian actress Shabana Azmi, sashays in with shopping bags. Her eyes beam with admiration as she gazes lovingly at her smartly fitted kitchen and the scene is set to celebrate her daughter’s 40th birthday.
Tejpal breaking into Punjabi every now and then, comes across as a proud matriarch who holds her family together. However, as the play ends there is a convincing twist to her tale. Azmi’s portrayal is convincing and authentic.
Pravesh Kumar and Harvey Virdi’s tightly scripted play has hilarious and poignant moments in equal measure.
This is especially apparent in the scenes where we see the son Nav, played by Ameet Chana, and his high maintenance wife working in fashion Harleen, acted by Goldy Notay.
He points out to his wife repeatedly that the prosecco she has bought for the celebration is not actually “champagne”, while she insists it is. Right through this, Chana convincingly portrays his mother’s and his own underlying sadness that his wife has put her career first before considering having children.
Newcomer Clara Indrani’s talent is apparent in her role of the reclusive birthday girl, Sunita. Lonely, she fantasises about a love story with her colleague at work and glorifies her love for own her father now living in India. A refusal to admit he has left home and begun a new family there increases the viewer’s sadness for her.
Maurice, the builder played by Russell Floyd, who has fitted the kitchen, is my favourite character. He is a guaranteed winner of your heart at the end of the play.
Despite the fact that this 80-minute play does not allow the characters to get fully rounded, with the unravelling of the family saga, each character grows in humanity when their knowledge and understanding of each other deepens.
“Happy Birthday Sunita”, written by actor-writer Virdi, is a heart-warming and well-directed comedy (Kumar, artistic director of Rifco Arts, the producing company). The thoroughly refreshing, engaging and entertaining experience remained with me long after I left the theatre.
Main picture: Sunita (Clara Indrani) and mum Tejpal (Shabana Azmi) by Helen Maybank