‘Anand Express’ Play Review: Nadir Khan’s Drama Is A Compelling Yet Flawed Portrait Of Friendship

Anand ExpressDirector: Nadir Khan
Adapted by: Akarsh Khurana
Cast: Chaitnya Sharma, Siddharth Kumar, Sukant Goel, Vivaan Shah
Language: English, Hindi

In Anand Express, the fourth Aadyam production of their ongoing season, Rage Productions returns to the theme of friendship. It’s a subject the Mumbai-based theatre group has visited time and again in plays such as Love Letters (1993), Class of ’84 (2003) and Pune Highway (2004). Directed by frequent Rage collaborator Nadir Khan, Anand Express is Akarsh Khurana’s adaptation of British playwright Carl Miller’s stage version of compatriot Keith Gray’s 2008 novel Ostrich Boys. It’s a worthy attempt to sketch a portrait of a long friendship, which like all lasting relationships is filled with brotherhood, betrayal and forgiveness. There are many compelling moments in Anand Express yet the play leaves you with a slight sense of dissatisfaction, as if you’ve had an incomplete meal. This is because there’s not enough feeling, a sense that the characters are truly experiencing the gale of emotion that moves them to act the way they do.

Three college buddies Kenny (Siddharth Kumar), Wasim (Chaitnya Sharma) and Neeraj (Vivaan Shah) want to give their deceased friend Anand (Sukant Goel) a meaningful send-off. They feel the funeral was a sham as it was attended by people who made Anand’s life miserable, his ex Tanya, a lisping professor called Mr. Saxena and Dhingra the bully. So they purloin his ashes and flee to Anand in Gujarat. Because Anand had always wanted to go to Anand.

The three couldn’t be more different. Neeraj is the practical one, the shepherd attempting to drive his flock to Anand without delay. Kenny is a baby, worrying endlessly about his mother worrying about his whereabouts. Wasim has the mien of a street tough. Unlike the others, he lives in a chawl and speaks accented English flecked with guttersnipe Bombay Hindi that suggests he’s from a lower class. There’s a lovely moment that shows the boys are familiar enough with each other to crack classist jokes. When Wasim ribs Kenny over being a clumsy wuss, Kenny slyly tells him to pronounce ‘tuberculosis’.

The three have switched their phones off and left the city telling no one of their mission. They have a few adventures en route, including a dalliance with some girls they meet on the train. Along the way, it emerges that there’s more to Anand’s death than the three initially let on. Was it simply a case of hit and run? And is their often reiterated outrage over Saxena, Dhingra and Tanya’s presence at the funeral blustery cover for something else?

This is the part where the play gets interesting. The journey to deposit Anand’s ashes is as much for the memory of their friend as it is an act of atonement for Kenny, Wasim and Neeraj. Each is guilty of less than honourable actions in Anand’s lifetime and this mini odyssey is an attempt at absolution. The frustration over reaching their destination triggers an outpouring of anger, accusation and confession in an episode that’s in contrast to the rest of the playfully-spent trip. It’s puzzling that the trio shows such little sign of grief. This is conveniently dismissed in a conversation between Neeraj and one of the girls they meet about how boys tend to suppress emotion unlike girls. There’s a point when the three glance into the urn of ashes and a shadow of sadness crosses their faces. But the feeling of loss and shock over the suddenness of the death doesn’t quite come through. As a result you have to work hard to build sympathy for Kenny, Wasim and Neeraj’s remorseful exercise.

Anand Express will be staged on Saturday, July 22 at 7.30pm and Sunday, July 23 at 4pm and 7.30pm at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point. Tel: 022 2282 4567. Get directions here. Tickets priced at Rs300, Rs500, Rs750, Rs1,000 and Rs1,250 per person are being sold on Bookmyshow.com.

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