The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page

All the world's a Bollywood stage

The other day, while watching a three-and-a-half-hour play at the Albery Theatre in St Martin's Lane in London, I got this idea for a Bollywood film. I know the plot is more than a little melodramatic, even by the standards of Hindi movies, but it would go something like this.

The Maharajah of the rotten state of Din Marg has been pushed out of the window of his apartment in Modibhavan. A bhoot, clothed in a white dhoti, warns the Yuvraj, Hum Late, that the dastardly deed has been committed by his uncle-cum-underworld goonda, Kala Das, who has added lust to his sins by marrying his newly-widowed sister-in-law, Gauri Sood.

The wretched Yuvraj, who cannot get his girlfriend, Awfuleeya, to sleep with him ' even though she is a wheat-complexioned modern Indian girl drawing five-figure salary with own car and flat ' cries out in anguish: '2B or not 2B. Is it nobler to get the Metro or suffer the slings and arrows of the bandh' To sleep, perchance to dream. Alas, poor Ambanis, I knew them well.'

If this all sounds as skilfully crafted as one of Subhash Ghai's blockbusters, I can only say that William Shakespeare's Hamlet and almost everything over-the-top scripted by the Bard anticipated Bollywood by 400 years.

So, it seems entirely appropriate that a fine English actor such as Toby Stephens should be playing Hamlet one moment in a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production ' as he is in sell-out performances at the Albery ' and be admired early next year as 'Captain Gordon' opposite Aamir Khan's Mangal Pandey in The Rising.

Toby, 35, is the son of Dame Maggie Smith and the late Robert Stephens, has distinguished himself in a number of RSC productions, played the baddie in the Bond film, Die Another Day, and the notorious British spy, Kim Philby, in the TV series, Cambridge Spies.

I thought his Hamlet, tortured, camp and heroic in turn, was magnificent.

Bobby Bedi and Ketan Mehta are fortunate to have got Toby for The Rising. But judging by Toby's melodramatic performance in Hamlet, it is not too far-fetched to suggest he has returned richer from India.

All the world really is a stage on which actors can transcend cultural boundaries.

ROLE PLAY: Alastair Niven (top) and Vincent Ebrahim

Mulk's Raj

It was an obvious thing to say but Alastair Niven, the literary critic, said it. Had Mulk Raj Anand lived until December 12 this year, he would have been 99 ' and 100 had he lived until December 12, 2005.

At a Nehru Centre function last week, where the British Asian theatre company, Man Mela, presented a 'dramatised celebration' of Mulk Raj Anand's work, Niven predicted: 'In 100 years' time, his books will still be read.'

The actress Douad Faress read extracts from Conversations in Bloomsbury and Seven Summers, while a number of actors, including Vincent Ebrahim and Raj Ghatak, performed sketches from Across the Black Waters and Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi.

The author, when London-based, met Gandhi at his ashram in Gujarat and switched to Indian clothes after the Mahatma chided him for dressing 'like a monkey'. At Gandhi's instigation, he completely rewrote the manuscript of his debut novel and simplified the language of Bhaka, the sweeper boy.

Untouchable, published in 1935, 'has been continuously in print since then', Niven pointed out.

Gandhi was clearly a shrewd judge of English prose as well. Had he lived today, he could easily have earned a reasonable living in London, pocketing '1,000 a time writing book reviews for one of the big newspapers.

UP CLOSE: Dev Anand (left) with his son Suniel

Fond memories

Dev Anand has been everywhere, done and seen everything and got the T-shirt to prove it but he still retains an infectious delight in life.

When the name of Anil Ambani's wife, Tina Munim, came up, as it tends to these days, he remembered: 'I introduced her in Des Pardes.'

That was in 1979 when Tina was tiny ' only 16.

I had been to a Mulk Raj Anand evening, I told Devsaab when I met him and his son, Suniel, for dinner.

'Yes, I was in Rahi in 1953, a film based on his novel,' he said. 'It was shot in Coonoor in south India, which was meant to be the tea gardens of Assam. The film was made in two versions.'

The following year, Dev Anand and his brother Chetan, Raj Kapoor, Nargis and Balraj Sahni were part of a 14-member delegation to the Soviet Union. 'This was the first delegation to the Soviet Union. Eight hundred prints each of my film and Raj Kapoor's Aawara were released in all the languages of the Soviet republic. The warmth of the people was overwhelming.'

Later, I checked the reference for Rahi, and, sure enough, it was directed in 1953 by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. The Hindi/ English film, also known as The Wayfarer, was 139 minutes long, and the cast included Dev Anand (former army officer), Nalini Jaywant (Ganga), S. Michael (English tea plantation manager) and Balraj Sahni.

The film, about a poor tea planter in Assam, was based on Mulk Raj Anand's 1937 novel, Two Leaves and a Bud.

City of joy

My old mate Salman Rushdie, accompanied by his bibi, has chosen to visit Calcutta in my absence, I note. Actually, I share his enthusiasm for New York but at the risk of being called biased, I have got to say this: intellectually, Calcutta is a lot livelier ' and nosier. At any rate, more people will have read his stuff.

As we like to say when bidding goodbye at Netaji Subhas International Airport: 'Please come again ' soon.'

Two's company

Two Indian schoolgirls, Gayathri Kumar, 13, and Nisha Abraham Thomas, were champion and runner-up in the BBC's Hard Spell contest from a field of 10,000 children aged 11-14.

No wonder Indians are going around with insufferable 'I told you so' looks.

Queen Bee

So, it came to pass last week that the senior businessman Dr Kartar Lalvani, president and CEO of Vitabiotics, handed over his 'Asian of the Year' title, which is conferred annually by the publishers of Who's Who of Asians in Britain, to Ramola Bachchan for her charity work over many years.

Now that the Queen Bee intends to spend much of the year in Delhi, I fear the Kir Royale will no longer be served at her Hampstead home but in the Indian capital.

Tittle tattle

President Musharraf was bowled some friendly full tosses by presenter Kirsty Wark on BBC TV's Newsnight. But at one point in the interview, the President-cum-army chief of Pakistan was stumped.

When the Pakistani cricket team tours England, should British Pakistanis cheer for the English players or the Pakistanis, Musharraf was asked.

'That's a difficult one,' confessed Pakistan's non-playing captain, a characteristic he frequently shares with our own Sourav.

His face broke into a guilty smile as he tried to wriggle out of answering what is called 'the Norman Tebbit test' of loyalty to England.

'When people get a visa (residency right), it doesn't mean their loyalties change overnight,' he said. 'Anyway, why make such a big issue of it!'

Even now, I can see Clive Lloyd reaching for the red light.

Email This Page