Well hey there gang. The Wi-Fi at home decided it does not like me anymore, so until something changes, I’m basically going to be living at Starbucks and the like. I’ve been extremely stressed recently, with several bad headaches. Not sure why – the prospect of turning 30 in a week, my lack of dissertation progress (at least, to my expectations; I am doing a little bit of something each day for it), and general life stress. This new lack of Internet dealio does not help.
Anyhoo, I decided to clear my mind by enjoying a nice meal at Cafe Hollander, and despite the noise, managing to get through an entire play: Unsuitable Girls by Dolly Dhingra.
Unsuitable Girls premiered in 2000, at Contact Theatre in Manchester.
- Chumpa Chameli. 28, a “bossy heroine.”
- Sab and Mandy, her childhood friends, 25 and 28.
- Mum, Chumpa’s mom, 55.
- Audrey Sackville, Chumpa’s boss at High Society, 40s.
- Ashok Sahota, Chumpa’s boyfriend, 28.
- Mem Sahota, Ashok’s cousin, 28.
- Vinod Kumar, Bollywood actor, 32.
- Manoj Sahota, Ashok’s father and local video shop owner.
- Other minor characters (Mrs. Middleton, Mr. Patel, Agent, Doctor, Matchmaker, Potential Dates…)
Present day, East End of London. We open on Chumpa, wearing a wedding dress in a locker room of a swim club. More on that later. Meanwhile, Mum and Manoj are attempting to navigate the logistics of Chumpa’s wedding to longtime boyfriend and total sleazebag Ashok. After Chumpa declares she is not going to marry Ashok, Mum has a heart attack, leading Chumpa to promise God that if Mum stays alive, she will get married. Mum recovers, so Chumpa’s got a new mission. Chumpa then navigates through a parade of potentials through agencies, through her non-Indian friends Sab and Mandy, and continually running into Ashok’s cousin, Mem. In a side plot, Chumpa is attempting to break into the journalism world, and after being fired by Mr. Patel of Concrete Weekly, lands a job with High Society, where she ends up interviewing a Bollywood star who proposes marriage almost instantly. It looks like a fairy-tale ending, but unsurprisingly, not the fairy tale you’re expecting.
I picked this play off the shelf randomly, and I think I’d rate it as just fair. There’s quite a lot of drama and a touch of Bollywood fantasy meeting the reality of 21st century relationships, which is an interesting combination. With all the location changes, implied musical numbers, and the whole swimming pool thing, it seems to be more suited for a film script than a theatre script, but if the Contact could pull it off, power to them. Overall, it’s not the most polished piece, with a few elements missing and kind of a sappy ending.
Life Imitating Bollywood
There’s a consistent theme of Bollywood throughout the play, from the myriad references, to implications of dance numbers, even resulting in a more-or-less Bollywood ending. There’s something about it that doesn’t quite work here, at least for me. I feel like in the wrong hands, this play could appear stereotypical and hackneyed (video-store notwithstanding) rather than current and bringing something new to the table. It’s an interesting contrast of worlds, but Dhingra could definitely accentuate it more, or make it seem like less of an abrupt transition. To me, it seems like the characters are almost aware that they’re actors in a Bollywood-esque scenario, which makes it seem less genuine, to a degree.
How I’d Flip It
I feel like it would be incredibly hard to stage, but it would definitely provide an “in” for audiences unaware of the aspects of Indian/British-Indian culture. There are a lot of fun cultural references, dramaturgically speaking, for audiences to get to know. For some reason, though, I think it would be better flipped onto a screen as a short film or a miniseries rather than a stage play. Not saying that is a bad play per se, I just feel like it could get messy and confusing, especially in a small space.