Raise a toast to city life

Actor-director Lillete Dubey’s latest play, Boiled Beans on Toast, which is based on acclaimed playwright Girish Karnad’s script, offers vignettes of life in Bengaluru and of the many Indias that co-exist in a single city

When we caught up with Lillete Dubey, she was a bit under the weather and busy with a million aspects of production. But her enthusiasm was hard to miss as soon as talk veered to her latest directorial venture — playwright Girish Karnad’s play, Boiled Beans on Toast. She was confident that it will have a long run, like her other works including Wedding Album (160 shows), Dance Like A Man (500 shows) and Adhe Adhure (70 shows).

The two-hour long English play is a contemporary Chekhovian comic drama delving on the aspects of a changing India by examining the lives of people who co-exist in Bengaluru. A Marathi and a Kannada version have been staged so far.

Elaborating on the journey, she says, “The philosophy of The Primetime Theatre Co! (her production house) is to look for plays by Indian playwrights. We also stage works by international playwrights when the script is good and has a resonance with the audience.” Dubey directed Karnad’s script for the play, Wedding Album, and she is now collaborating for Boiled Beans on Toast.

A snapshot of Bengaluru city

While the play is based in Bengaluru, Dubey admits that it is a microcosm of India. Through the stories of 21 characters, it offers insights on issues ranging from migration to the perils of development on the environment and how progress means different things to different people.

The play, which casts Joy Sengupta and Meenal Patel among others, has nine actors who portray 21 characters. “We travel with our plays, and it gets difficult and more expensive if there are lots of cast members or elaborate sets. So, we have truncated roles and every actor plays at least two-three parts. It’s a challenge for the actors as well and keeps them on their toes,” she explains.

A scene from Boiled Beans on Toast 

In this play, Dubey was faced with a challenge to convey the colloquialism in English. “There is a certain rhythm to the dialect, and it sounds organic in a regional language. For example, a maid conversing in English has to be differentiated, somehow. Depicting class in society meant that the characters had to sound different from each other. We also didn’t want to caricaturise the characters,” she emphasises.

Lillete Dubey 

After its Mumbai premiere, Boiled Beans on Toast will tour in other cities including Pune, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and plans are afoot to take it to UK and the US. As for Dubey, four days after the premiere, she embarks on her next acting assignment: a BBC series based on India in the 1930s.

On April 20, 7 pm at NCPA, Nariman Point. Call 22824567

Did you know?

The play is titled Boiled Beans on Toast as a reference to a story related to the founding of Bengaluru. The story mentions that an 11th century king was saved by an old woman who offered him boiled beans. The king then decided to name the spot ‘Bendakalooru’ or the place of boiled beans to represent the hospitality accorded to
a traveller.

On Girish Karnad’s work
Says Lillete Dubey, “He has his distinct style. His writing is not like Vijay Tendulkar or Mahesh Elkunchwar. He has an insightful and incisive way of looking at contemporary India. He does not write dramatic scripts but they are intelligent and tongue-in-cheek. In this play, he has got the domestic space spot on.”

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