A welcome, wholesome play on gay couple

webEnacte Arts seems to have hit a home run this time around, in all aspects of theater: the perfectly written story by Madhuri Shekar, well handled by theater veteran Ranjita Chakravarty in her second directorial venture, witty dialogues delivered to perfection by a talented cast, sparse yet efficient sets, with excellent stage management.

Wholesomeness exuded from the time you set foot in Cubberly Theater in Palo Alto on the opening Friday night to the time you left. The audience engaged with the actors (or EnActeurs as they are fondly referred to by Vinita Sud Belani, the force behind the company) at every level.

In today’s day and age, the gay and lesbian topic has come a long way from even a few years ago…in terms of legislation and propositions, media coverage, and has earned enduring global presence and acceptance. Except when it comes to Indians and their beloved children, even in a liberal setting as the Bay Area.

The saying, “Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) can just as well be applied to this sentiment. A Nice Indian Boy focuses on the dichotomy of the perceived and real world of gay couples, where the parents struggle to accept their son’s sexual orientation, and are faced with accepting the guy he brings home. When the real identity of the boyfriend is revealed as a Caucasian, true emotions surface, drawing in a prodigal daughter of the family into the cross hairs as well, subjecting her “perfect marriage” to a nice Indian boy under immense scrutiny.

This is a tale of love above all – love between mature couples engaged in exasperated banter, having struggled through their youth and conquered their fears, superbly executed by Dilip Ratnam and Sukanya Sarkar, as the loving, yet, squabbling parents. The parents try their utmost to understand more about the unfamiliar world that their son has introduced them to…presented with great humor when they are shown watching the movie, “Milk”.

Such light hearted moments are strewn with regularity all through the story, and emerge as the punch lines in many a dialogue exchange.

The love between Naveen, the son, played by Aditya Thakur, and his white boyfriend, Keshav (Erik Scilly) is sweet, tender, touching, while going through the ups and downs of any normal relationship, especially in the scenes where the rejection Keshav feels at Naveen’s house causes him to leave Naveen, but bonds of their love reunite them ultimately.

The sibling, a sassy Arundhuti, well characterized by Prathima Vadiraja, is all sour on the outside and sweetness on the inside for her brother and parents. She is herself conflicted about the true nature of her love for her husband of six years, and questions the relationship.

The play is impressively produced with a lot of heart and brain, and an audience member shared that she cried and laughed at the pathos and comedy which could really be anyone’s life. At times, the audience laughed till they cried, and cried till they were made to laugh again.

Tense moments are punctuated with pithy dialogue, or a change of scenery to transition quickly into the appropriate mood, without losing sight of the thread. The story is told with honesty and humor…too many instances of situational comedy, or a cleverly juxtaposed word…as in Keshav prostrating himself in front of Lord Ganesha in the temple, and then at Naveen’s parents’ feet! Or, when Keshav shows his tattoo of Lord Ganesha on his back, and claims that “Lord Ganesha has his back”!

Arundhuti’s recalling of Baba Ramdev Guru, sardonically referring to Keshav’s extreme Indian-ness has the audience in splits. The underlying subtext of the movie, “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge”, (DDLJ) was used to advantage to the hilt, in the recurring theme song, and subtle references peppered throughout, without resorting to making it a caricature or stereotyping.

The slow acceptance of Naveen’s father for this strange match is poignantly played out in the kitchen on stage, where, Dilip permits Keshav to tweak his family recipe of dal makhani by adding parseley, and claiming to love it; even proudly declaring this twist to Naveen. In another heartfelt exchange, the siblings share confidences, and inner turmoil while trying to make sense of what life has unfolded for them, ultimately acknowledging their parents’ love towards them, and for each other.

Arundhuti is convinced by her brother to reexamine her own relationship and seek the truth, even if it does not involve a racing heart at the sight of her husband. Perhaps a quiet, mature love as seen in her parents’ marriage is a possibility.

In a sweet culmination of this dramedy, the boy and the boy are blessed at their nuptials, keeping alive the DDLJ sentiment! Kudos to the entire EnActe team for courageously raising the curtain on this tough issue and opening a dialogue with gut and sincerity, and a lot of humor!

Archana Asthana

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