Free Press Journal

Play Review: Bharat Dabholkar’s That’s My Girl! Is an emotional laugh riot


A still from the play

If you want to catch Bharat Dabholkar in a different strain altogether and yet laugh your heart out, don’t miss this tiny charmer of a play, says Anupama Chandra  

Title of Play: That’s My Girl!

Writer & Director: Bharat Dabholkar

Cast: Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, Ananya Dutta & Shweta Rohira

Language: English

When the focal point of the stage is the road running parallel to the Bandra Reclamation seen through a set of French windows, you are almost sure that the play is about the maximum city. You couldn’t be farther away from the truth. The story is about a father and daughter who meet after a gap of 16 years and the city provides the platform for all the action that follows. It is also the hometown of Bollywood, the only link that supposedly connects the two. As you can well imagine, this scenario leads to lots of awkward situations, crazy tiffs, guilty revelations and smart dialogues. If you did, this time you hit the mark.

Back to Bollywood

Ashu from Surat lands up at her father Anil Desai’s doorstep in Mumbai unannounced—one who had abandoned her mother, brother and her some 16 years earlier—with the supposed intention of getting him, a film script writer who has fallen on hard times, to help her gain an entry into Bollywood as an actress. She meets and greets his girlfriend Anuradha, a stylist with Yashraj Films, fondly in return for her maternal affections and to have a back-up chance of entry into the tinsel town.

Soon the accusations fly thick and fireworks begin, and Anuradha finds herself volunteering for an unspectacular job—that of a mediator between the duo who fly at each other’s throat at a moment’s notice. The repartee in Hinglish is quite on point and doesn’t miss many beats. The strong emotional landscape of the story is eased by heavy doses of droll humour that is the director’s trademark.

Growth of the Characters

In this situational comedy, the journey of the male protagonist from being an absentee father to one who stands at the window wondering if his daughter is dressed warmly enough on a wintry evening and that of the daughter, from one who held her father in contempt to one who grows to love him, is explored through incidents in their life over a couple of weeks.  Ananth Mahadevan explores a different shade of the concerned father character than the one he had played in ‘Can I help you?’ in 2016 while Ananya Dutta moves beyond her glamourous roles to play a mature, sensible mother with her heart in the right place as also a lady in love with a man who is afraid to love her back. They have their parts down to pat given their vast theatre experience.

Shweta Rohira debuts as the abandoned daughter who held the fort in place of her father in her household, and who has now come to seek her pound of flesh. Only matters are never what they seem to be. The young actress is fresh-faced, sincere and confident, riding the audience laughter and appreciation with abandon to match the two seasoned actors. She keeps a parallel comical track running about a dead grandmother that brings quite a few laughs in its wake. Some of the better scenes are the quiet ones shared by the father-daughter that make the audience grow soft with emotion.

The artists played to the audience at all the right places, and while there were some slack moments, they were quickly followed up by some funny ones.

Writing with a difference

In 1985, the director was responsible for bringing Hinglish to the mainstream Indian stage and changing a good many things including breaking box-office records with India’s longest running musical ‘Bottoms Up’. After 30 plus years in the field and having written almost the same number of plays, Bharat Dabholkar continues to strive to make his audience smile and laugh. His latest is a break from his full-scale musicals but his will to entertain shines through all the same. The dialogues are clever not deep (just as required), at times even clichéd but the delivery ensures a laugh alright.

The set had little furniture to start with that undergoes minimal alterations in the interval to take the story forward. The lighting was adequate as was the sound. There were a few hiccups, but they should get ironed out as the play gets set in its pattern.

Here’s our verdict— if situational comedy is your cup of tea, you will probably love this cuppa and may even be back for a refill.