“Two Passport Size photo, electric bill copy, drivers’ licence copy, 75 Rs. stamp paper”
…repeated one of the many characters personified by Jyoti Dogra in her monologue ‘Notes on Chai’. Depicted as an enactment of various conversations with ordinary people one might encounter in their routine lives in urban India, this splendid piece of experimental theatre portrays them with finesse with the central theme of the characters’ liking of Chai, and along with it comes the use of varied extended vocal techniques – melodious to say – inspired by Tibetan incantations. The sounds, oh so brilliantly conveyed, sounded even better with the amazing acoustics of Prithvi Theatre.
The characters portrayed in this prop-less solo act range from a frail woman born in Lahore reminiscing about her days at the tea stall outside of her college amid her immense liking for Chai devoid of water as it makes it thin and gives her acidity, to a groin scratching old man who wanted to go to London in his days but who later got caught on with the middle class Indian life and is now working at the family shop.
All of this is intermittently dispersed via Dogra’s performance of her supposed alter ego – Mathura hailing, ingenuous Hindi speaking, Indian Idol watching, middle class LIC agent living in Jogeshwari who sips her early morning Chai (about which she is too passionate and which she meticulously prepares by using adrak and elaichi) in the balcony during the only lone time she gets in the bustling city of Bombay. The character seems to be on the verge of a breakdown and talks about being fed up of the hardships in the big city and wanting to go away somewhere far. At the same time the quirkier side of the character is portrayed who wants to experiment with her sexuality after getting drunk but her husband finishes too soon leaving her wanting for more, hence making her turn on the radio and slow-dance in the night.
The impact of the raw emotions on display was magnified by the sounds, expressions and the flexible body movements enacted exceptionally by Dogra. The sounds of sipping a chai, sexual moans, singing with the radio etc. keep lingering in your head for quite sometime. The act terminates with the characters trying to comprehend happiness. A woman who doesn’t understand her daughter getting divorced in the pursuit of happiness portrays her version of the same; ‘happiness is important’ says Dogra’s simpleton alter ego, suggesting to start again tomorrow, all the things that couldn’t be done today.
The act is about the mundane, presented crisply in a monologue, via a range of voices and sounds inspired by Tibetan chants, making you ponder over the routine discussions, some innocuous, some contentious, but all over cups of piping hot Chai.
Please do yourself a favor, next time this contemporary piece of excellence is on the charts, go watch it. Jyoti Dogra is one brilliant performer; a master vocalist and visualizer; I can’t imagine how extraordinary her next act would be, but whatever it may be, I am going to lap it up all. 🙂