There is the timelessness and universality of Neil Simon’s writing, that makes his dark comedy about urban living—The Prisoner of Second Avenue — that nearly half a century later it resonates with a new audience across the globe.
This play has been done several times before on the Mumbai stage, but Rage’s production 'Siddhus of Upper Juhu', directed by Rahul da Cunha, still makes audiences laugh at the problems of the city, from the constant digging of roads, the constant noise, howling dogs, to nasty neighbours, bad plumbing and safety issues. The first giggle is in the title—only a Mumbaikar would get the joke; fancy apartments in Andheri try to climb the social hierarchy by throwing in their lot with the most sophisticated in Juhu (like the working class neighbourhood of Parel calling itself Upper Worli!)
It is in this faux snooty suburban tower that Balvinder ‘Bubbles’ Siddhu (Rajit Kapur) and his wife Behroze (Shernaz Patel) have sunk their savings. But the many crores does not buy them the peace that they crave. To make things worse, Bubbles loses his job, and their flat is burgled—the thieves literally take everything the Siddhus own, except the clothes on their backs. The tension is enough to snap Bubbles’ mental equilibrium. Behroze is left to cope with his tantrums and their financial woes; his behaviour only worsens when his wife finds a job. The entry of his nutty family of three sisters and domineering brother does not help much. It is a nightmare scenario that anyone in Mumbai can go through.
The genius of Simon’s play is that even though the subject is grim, the treatment is humorous. The way the original, set in New York, has been ‘Mumbai-fied’ is also working towards the success and longevity of the production. The two lead actors are, of course, perfectly cast and deliver the fine balance between pathos and comedy.