Shri 420 exposes preying ‘godmen’

By Neena Badhwar

First it was titled ‘Shri Shri 420’, then just ‘Shri 420’ as some concerned members of the community objected to using the words ‘Shri Shri’ and others suggested, ‘why not a 420 mullah’.

What’s in a name! A conman is a conman, a fraudster, a fraudster, embellished or not embellished, Hindu or a Sikh, Muslim or a Christian. The real ones, unattached souls, don’t need followers nor riches.

The theme of the play is current with so many ‘so called godmen’ on the noose – Rampal, Asa Ram, high priests from Maitland and the caliphates who abduct innocent young girls.

To call Shri 420 a comedy may be a mistake with such serious thematic. But there are subtle hilarious touches when the conned husband hiding under a table gestures to touch the holy man’s feet who is trying to seduce his wife.

The holy man is played by Sydney’s well-known stage actor Vipul Vyas and the husband is acted brilliantly by Nisar Surguroh as Om Prakash Bhatti.  Wife Sweety is played by Aparna Vats, daughter Mahi played by Jyotsna Sharma, son Dev Prakash played by Abhishek Mehrotra, all fooled into becoming his disciples.

Indian director Atul Tewari’s imagination runs riot as he pretends the main character to be a swami with his chelas that he has employed to create an image in which Omi and his family naively gets caught in the web laid by him as Swami Anadpunjanand Tarakeshwarnath.

The only person who would not be fooled is the young maid Deepal played by Avantika Tomar as she chases the Swami with her duster, her eyes and ears open to his deceitful ways. Avantika was the star of the play, the protector of the family, guarding them with her only weapon, a duster, would you believe.

The plot is revealed in the final stages by Farjad Mehmood as the police officer who wraps up the heightened tension as he undoes the Swami’s vile web.

The swami, the police officer reveals, is not only a criminal but a fraudster who has conned innocent people in eleven countries with Interpol after him. He is a Pundit in one, a Pir in another, a Baba in third; there is no end to his treachery and deceit. And now he lands in Australia.

All the actors are from Sydney who have worked hard for months under the co-direction of Atul Tewari and Adakar Cultural Group’s Saba Abdi. The adaptation and script by the accomplished Tewari of Moliere’s French play ‘Tartuffe’ – meaning a hypocrite religious pretender – is tight and hilarious. The dialogues are cleverly rhymed, yet quite elaborate.

The local talent is maturing with initiatives such as Adakar’s presentation of plays such as ‘Kanjoos’, ‘Wedding Album’ and now this drama ‘Shri 420’. We need local writers for a bit more of the Aussie touch, which, although injected by Tewari, has ground for more authenticity.

‘Shri 420’ has brought to the fore some very good actors as Atul said about them at the end: “I came with grey hair which turned white just in two months working hard with them. And I have learnt a lot, so have they in the process.”

The team of Adakar who helped back stage included Rajeev Maini and Jayant Deshmukh as the set designers, Light by Dhruv Ghosh and Dhruv Jyoti Ghose, Music by Amod Bhatt, sound by Sunil Kumar, Makeup by Sandhya Bose, Costume by Mala Mehta and Richa Sharad.

Yes, this play had one another specialist on the team – a Magic Consultant as Mangesh Desai. How, otherwise, could the imposter Swami produce from his sleeve or his mouth those gold chains, watches and other goodies to entice the Bhatti family, the tricks he played and the illusion he created by his acts of sheer perfidy. It would be interesting to know how Vipul Vyas perfected that skill in a matter of months and also never forgot his dialogues while doing the tricks.

We need more such theatre work from Adakar. Well done!

 

 

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