Anand Express is the fourth offering of the ongoing session of ‘Aadhyam 2017’ produced under the banner of Rage Productions, and directed by Nadir Khan. The story of Anand Express is simple, and yet complicated. Since it is a journey, both inwards and outwards, of three boys from Bandra to Baroda, putting it on the limited space of a stage was quite a challenge. The whole experiment was mounted at Jamshed Bhabha auditorium of the NCPA, and turned out to be a top-class job.
Keith Gray, (born: 1972), a British novelist wrote The Ostrich Boys in 2008. It was adapted to stage by another British playwright Carl Miller. Akarsh Khurana adapted the same to Indian conditions and locales, and this is how one Anand Express came to be.
Three college buddies – Kenny (Siddharth Kumar), Wasim (Chaitanya Sharma) and Neeraj (Vivaan Shah) decide to give their deceased friend Anand (Sukant Goel) a meaningful send-off. When alive, Anand often talked about visiting Anand, a town in Gujarat, famous as the milk capital of India, which was created by the late
Dr. Verghese Kurien. The three decide to take Anand’s ashes to Anand and give him a fitting funeral.
They switch off their cell phones and leave Mumbai for Baroda. As is expected in such situations, they take the wrong train, forget their belongings, run short of money on the way. They earn some money by bungee-jumping and finally reach Anand, the town. This journey itself is a revelation of sorts. It brings to light those things which they would have loved to forget completely. It is also an act of atonement for the three friends. Each is guilty of some less honourable act in Anand’s life.
One friend had not made time to meet Anand when he was informed by Anand that by mistake, he had deleted all files of the novel written by his father. Anand had felt shattered. The second friend confesses that he had seen Anand being beaten up in the garden, but did not have the guts to go to Anand’s rescue. Unfortunately for him, Anand had seen him and this guilt weighs on his mind. Then there is the third friend who was dating Tanya, Anand’s ex-girl friend. Anand got wind of this, and was heartbroken. These secrets spilling out forces the audience to question the nature of friendship, trust and betrayal. Slowly and steadily the three realise that perhaps it was not an accident that claimed Anand’s life, perhaps it was suicide? The truck driver under whose truck Anand died, kept claiming that Anand threw himself in front of the truck. The play that begins on a playful note starts getting somber, sad and serious.
Akarsh Khurana’s version uses Indian English liberally which makes the audience feel at home, and the story becomes that much more credible. The play has a non-linear fragmented narrative, and yet the tempo never goes down thanks largely to the boundless energy of the youthful cast. Though we get to see four young actors on stage, they play many other characters that are incidental to the story.The initial ambience of the play is a bromance like Dil chahata hai and Zindagi na milegi dobara. But this similarity ends soon and Anand Express starts charting its very own journey. It is not only about journey of three young boys from Bandra to Baroda, but also an inward journey where they are called upon to face some bitter truths about friendship, betrayal, etc.
I was reminded of Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer din ratri, a film made in 1970. Here too, four young friends go into the forest for a weekend party. Too many things happen in the forest and by the time they drive out on Sunday evening, all four have been transformed into mature adults. If one reads the story of Anand Express, one realises that to show all these scenes on the limited space of theatre would be a huge challenge.
Nadir Khan, the director of the play, has used multi-media technique and a huge multi-purpose bloc that is used to communicate change of scene, locale and characters. The trick of putting Anand often on the top of the bloc is quite impressive as he looks at the happenings on stage from heaven where he is supposed to be after his death. The projectors are used to communicate train journeys, and small changes in costumes add variety to the whole experience.
While watching Anand Express two things stood out. One is the set design (Fali Uniwala), and second is the light design (Arghya Lahiri). Both these aspects are under expert hands and hence add a lot to the visual effect of the play. Then there is top class acting by all four young actors. Kenny, Wasim, Neeraj and Anand – all four express youthful energy and innocence. They have managed to convincingly communicate the changes in their mindset as the play progresses. From a group of well-meaning boys who are keen to give their best friend a fitting farewell, they end up losing their innocence and step into adulthood. Anand Express is surely an excellent entertainment, and definitely worth a watch.