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Dark Side Of Fame

Tuesday, May 21, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Marathi theatre so often springs pleasant surprises—like the play Knock Knock Celebrity, which comprises two monologues to do with fame, and how it affects people from opposite sides of the class divide. Written by Omkar Arvind Kulkarni and directed by Mandar Deshpande, the play connects the two seemingly disparate stories in unexpected ways, making the viewer actually appreciate the writing much more in retrospect.

In the first part, Kshitee Jog plays Naina, a cleaner in a mall on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.  Like so many others, she is hooked to TV soaps, and enamoured of TV stars, especially an actor whose screen name is Mahesh. And like so many ordinary folk, the highlight of her day is spotting a celebrity at the mall and talking a selfie (she cutely pronounces it as “shelfie” in a working class Marathi accent). She admits that the really big superstars obviously don’t stop at the mall, but TV stars do, and her collection of “shelfies”, that she promptly Whatsapps to her husband, is growing. Those fleeting encounters are her escape from her mundane existence.

Mahesh was very nice to her, and she is dizzy with adoration; when she discovers later that he was “off”  (dead), she pays tribute to him in her own way.
In the second story, a journalist (Sumeet Raghavan) is summoned to his home by a TV star called Rohan. He is shocked to find that Rohan, who has reached dizzying heights of fame though a popular serial, plans to withdraw from public life, and wants the journalist who was part of that journey to stardom, understand his state of mind. There is a scoop dangling in front of the scribe, and the rare opportunity to watch a celebrity bare his soul to him.

The two actors hold the play together, even when there are a few longeurs, and vividly bring to life multiple characters, particularly the one who links them. Kshitee Jog is utterly charming as the cheerful Naina—reminding us of those men and women, who silently swipe their mops on shiny floors in malls and hotels, without anyone even acknowledging them with a smile or nod. Raghavan is a seasoned actor, who effortlessly modulates his voice and body language, performing on a bare stage, but letting the viewer imagine the locations and people he talks about.

Knock Knock Celebrity gives a glimpse of what lives are like behind doors, in spaces that we can only imagine—and perhaps not too accurately.

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