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Deepa Gahlot: A romance that has endured the ages

In this age of Tinder hook-ups, Main Aur Tum portrays how a one-night stand turns into an unusual 25-yr romance for a married man and woman

Bernard Slade probably does not know how popular his play, Same Time Next Year, is in Mumbai. The 1975 original has been adapted in several languages (from Mausam Chhalke in Gujarati back in 1978, to the present), and is by far the most widely performed two-hander, alongside the many versions of AR Gurney’s Love Letters. And considering so many local producers don’t believe in giving credit to the writer, most viewers do not know where this romantic comedy comes from.

Adapted from Bernard Slade’s Same Time Next Year, the play Main Aur Tum is directed by Sharman Joshi, who also plays the lead, along with Tejashree Pradhan
Adapted from Bernard Slade’s Same Time Next Year, the play Main Aur Tum is directed by Sharman Joshi, who also plays the lead, along with Tejashree Pradhan

The Broadway production of Same Time Next Year ran for 1,453 performances and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. It was turned into an equally successful film, and even then continues to be revived regularly somewhere or the other in the world.

Right now, there are two versions of the play running in Mumbai—Raell Padamsee’s Rohit Roy-Mona Singh starrer, Unfaithfully Yours (that does not acknowledge the source) and the more recent Main Aur Tum (Slade given credit) directed by Sharman Joshi, who also plays the lead with Tejashree Pradhan. (Interestingly, Sharman’s father Arvind Joshi played the same role opposite Sarita Joshi in Mausam Chhalke).

The play is a charming romcom about a man and a woman who have an impromptu one-night stand at a holiday resort and decide to meet at the same time each year, at the same place. Both are married with kids and promise never to contact each other through the year. This strange affair carries on over 25 years, with the passage of time conveyed by music, conversations about time-specific events and costumes. The two of them are committing adultery and deceiving their spouses, yet this annual tryst provides them with a kind of emotional anchor that helps strengthen their marriages. They can confide in each other with a stranger-on-a-train kind of uninhibitedness, yet know that the other cares and empathises.

Far from judging the couple, the play offers a wish-fulfillment fantasy that allows for an affair without disturbing a happy family life; in fact, providing an extra layer of emotional well-being and sexual excitement. When the play was written, the sexual revolution and the women’s movement were at their peak, and making a light-hearted romp out of a potentially explosive situation probably helped allay the feeling of wrongdoing and remorse that might have come up if the couple were not faithful to each other and carried out multiple affairs. There is lust and guilt, of course, but nothing sordid about a relationship that enhances the lives of the two involved in it. The man and woman are ordinary, yet touched by this extraordinary love, filled with the beauty of the secret they share and the hope of something to look forward to.

In Sharman Joshi’s production, he plays Siddharth, a chartered accountant, and she is Malvika, a poet and homemaker; between them they have five children and if it weren’t for him saving her from drowning and giving her artificial respiration, there was no chance of the two ever meeting. He comes to the resort in Dalhousie every year to see a client, she to an ashram nearby — it’s a perfect cover.

Unlike the Slade play, this one begins in 1991 upto the present, but it keeps to the five-year gap between scenes when the audience sees them in the room that remains unchanged over the years. Joshi has not bothered to punctuate the passage of time with period music, but there are costume changes and some indications of aging. There is a bit of an anachronism in that Malvika gets into ‘hippie’ mode many years after the flower power era, but it doesn’t seem to bother the audience that probably knows the story and still invests in this odd romance.

The funniest scene in the play is when Malvika arrives for one tryst heavily pregnant and he ends up delivering her baby, since there is no doctor or hospital nearby. For a play about sex, it is rather sweet and innocent, the way the two of them exchange affectionate stories about their spouses and show each other pictures of their children. But for this aberration, the two are wonderful spouses and parents. Funnily, he feels more guilty than she does, and neither gives even a passing thought to breaking up their marriages.

The play must have shocked the conservative then and probably does so now, though we are in the times of Tinder, when terms like hook-up and friend with benefits have entered the vocabulary of romance and the idea of a marriage or relationship lasting forever — or 25 years — seems nearly impossible. Love often does not even come into the picture, which is probably why a play that was ahead of its time in 1975 and a bit dated now, still never fails to fill the theatre.

Deepa Gahlot is an award-winning film and theatre critic and an arts administrator. She tweets at @deepagahlot

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