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That thing called friendship

Friendship is one of the most universal relationships that is replete with love, compassion and at times bitterness. Almost everyone, at some point in their lives, has had a fall out with their closest friends. This forms the premise of Delhi-based theatre actor and director Danish Husain’s play Chinese Coffee that will be staged today at Prithvi Theatre. Based on American playwright Ira Lewis’ acclaimed play by the same name, which marked Hollywood star Al Pacino’s return to the Broadway in the early ’90s, the production is a dark comedy about two failed artistes and friends - Harry Levine and Jake Manheim.


Danish Husain (left) and Aamir Bashir play two friends who have a bitter fall out in Chinese Coffee

Levine, an obscure novelist, writes a third novel and gives the manuscript to Manheim for his feedback. Manheim, a brilliant writer who had penned two critically-acclaimed short stories when he was 19, is now a photographer and leads a modest life.

He takes a loan from Levine but fails to return it. The play opens with Levine, who after being thrown out from his job at a chic restaurant, visiting Manheim to recover his money and also seek his views on his novel. As the evening unfurls, secrets tumble out of the closet and what ensues is a series of caustic remarks shared by the friends about love, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angst and broken affairs.

Explaining what attracted him to the play, Husain says, “Al Pacino adapted Chinese Coffee into an independent film that was released in New York as part of the Tribeca Film festival in 2000. Few years ago, I saw the DVD and was utterly impressed by the phenomenal writing, dialogues and brilliant performances by Pacino and actor Jerry Orbach. At that time, I hadn’t heard about the production. As the movie was filmed in close ups and mid shots, I figured it was based on a play. I did some research and decided to adapt the piece.”

While Husain has tried to stay true to the original, he has made some minor changes. “I have retained the crispness of the language. But the title Chinese Coffee is derived from the Chinatown coffee shops in New York. Since Indian audiences wouldn’t be able to relate to it, I changed the setting to New Delhi. The shops near Jama Masjid are known for Nihari (a stew consisting of slow-cooked beef or lamb). So I decided to incorporate it in the production.”

The actor-director also decided to double cast his friends Vrajesh Hirjee and Aamir Bashir in the play while he essayed the other role. Chinese Coffee, which premiered last year in the capital and was also staged at the National Centre for Performing Arts’ (NCPA) Centrestage Festival, has won rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Husain is optimistic about the play’s run in Mumbai. “Since it is about two artistes who haven’t made it and is essentially about friendship, it has a universal appeal that resonates with people,” he signs off.

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