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'Whodunit' in Shimla

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

It was an emotional moment for the actor and the audience that has been watching him for years—Arvind Rathod is a legend in Gujarati theatre and cinema. He lost his co-star and partner of many years, Padmarani, who passed away in January last year. It took some persuasion on the part of the producers (Kiran Bhatt, Chetan Gandhi and Jitendra Joshi) apart from his own will to come back to stage that made Rathod star in '11 Kalak 23 Minutes'.

Written by Vinod Sarvaiya and directed by Feiroz Bhagat (a stage star himself, often paired with Apara Mehta), the play is a suspense thriller set in Shimla. A sadistic politician Amol Mazumdar (Raj Vazir), harasses and tortures his wife (Amita Rajda), for reasons ranging from not making good coffee to having an affair with a neighbour.

One night, he is shot dead, the wife is holding the murder weapon and ready to confess to the murder, when a stranger (Arvind Rathod) walks into the house, claiming that his car broke down outside. On hearing her story, he says that killing a monster is not murder by execution, and offers to create a scene that would give her an alibi for the time of the murder.

When a lone cop, who says he is from the CBI, because it’s a high-profile case, starts investigating, Majumdar’s step-mother, the servant and the neighbor also appear to have a motive for killing him.

The plot, vaguely reminiscent of the Hindi film 'Dhund' (BR Chopra 1973), which itself was inspired by an Agatha Christie play The Unexpected Guest (1958), '11 Kalak 23 Minutes', has been chopped and changed, without reducing the red herrings or the whodunit aspect.

The production values are lavish, the acting very uneven, but finally the play rests on the shoulders of Arvind Rathod, who carries off the comic as well as the dramatic bits with aplomb. If nothing else, the play is worth a watch for him.

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