X-rated, and ready for Mumbai!

Bharat Dabholkar’s risqué musical revue Bottoms Up that was a game-changer for English theatre in the 1980s, is back as New Bottoms Up X-Rated. With an all-new cast, fresh jokes, lavish sets and extra glamour, this version promises to be a bigger extravaganza. In between rehearsals, the director/actor speaks about then and now

Q. Why did you decide to revive your record-breaking 1980s’ play Bottoms Up?
A. The last Bottoms Up was staged nearly 12 to 15 years ago. I always wanted to revive it, but it is not a regular play with a set, six to seven characters and a story. Bottoms Up has always been an entertainer. Now, with audience getting such content on television, our play needed to be much bigger and better for them to step out of their homes and watch it. When I found the backing in Ashvin Gidwani, who has the ability to support a play like this, we decided to bring it back. The new version is a spectacle like a Broadway show — more glamorous than any of the previous ones. If I had revived the play earlier, the humour element would be present, but no glamour.

Bharat Dabholkar
Bharat Dabholkar

Q. What made Bottoms Up so successful in the first place?
A. At that time, English plays usually comprised stories about problems of life and the actors spoke in proper English accents. Bottoms Up was the first play to have a unique combination of humour and glamour. Since we roped in artists from different stages (Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, etc), they spoke English in their own accents. That created empathy and built connect with the audience. I’ve known people who have watched the play at least 50 times.

Ashvin Gidwani

Q. How have you kept the play relevant even after two decades?
A. The basis of Bottoms Up is making fun of everything happening around us, except religion and women. While earlier, we made fun of BEST buses, telephone booths and mobile phones (they had just arrived in the market), in this version, we are making fun of topical issues like airlines, traffic, school admissions, politicians and television anchors. It works still because everyone has some anger towards establishment, and laughing at them is their way of getting back. The play also features a TV news section, where new material will be written for each show. So, even if you watch the play again, we will have something new to offer.

Q. Have you repeated any of the previous cast?
A. No, I am the only connect between the two versions. The previous cast comprised brilliant actors who formed the Bottoms Up gang. However, this play required a younger lot because it takes up a lot of energy. For the first time, I auditioned most of the actors, apart from artists like Mohan Azaad and Ananth Mahadevan, who I have known earlier.

Q. With stand-up acts, YouTube channels and television shows also taking potshots at current affairs, what makes Bottoms Up unique?
A. While a stand-up act or TV show has one comedian performing, Bottoms Up is better in terms of the magnitude and the quality of actors. Also, these acts often rely on foul language to create shock value, which accounts for the humour element. Our task is tougher because we have to appeal to the audience without using foul language.

Q. Tell us about the genre of comedy, its challenges and how does one keep it alive on stage?
A. Comedy plays have always worked in India. However, this genre is difficult to handle. Serious plays are easier to work on because audience gets involved in the plot. Here, the challenge is to make the audience laugh every 30 seconds.  

1985 to 1995
Bottoms Up: A Timeline
>> Bottoms Up
>> Sons Of Bottoms Up
>> Grandsons Of Bottoms Up
>> Best of Bottoms Up

On February 1 (Premiere show) and February 7
Time 7.30 pm
At Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
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What's new?
This two-hour extravaganza features several 10-minute skits, a TV news section, antakshari comprising 20 Bollywood songs and take-offs on Lavani, Tamil, Gujarati and Punjabi songs in English.

 The cast  of New Bottoms Up X-Rated at a rehearsal. PIC/Shadab Khan

The cast of New Bottoms Up X-Rated at a rehearsal. PIC/Shadab Khan

The set comprises three LED screens, reflective flooring and 200 naked bulbs designed as arches on the stage. With 180 costume changes, each actor plays about eight to nine characters in the play. Louis Banks, who had composed the music of the original, has worked on the new version along with RS Mani, contributing the Indian music in the play. Hormuzd Khambata has choreographed the dances.

The new Bottoms Up gang
>> Ananth Narayan Mahadevan (below)
>> Kunal Vijaykar (last)
>> Amit Roy
>> Mohan Azaad
>> Kavita Kapur
>> Rupali Suri
>> Bhavna Pani
>> Sneha Chavan

Ananth Narayan Mahadevan

Kunal Vijaykar

Other plays staging a comeback

Jesus Christ Superstar (English)
After 40 long years, Alyque Padamsee has revived his iconic play, Jesus Christ Superstar, a Rock musical based on the story of Jesus Christ.
ON Today and January 18, 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm
AT St Andrews auditorium,
St Dominic Road, Bandra (W).

Raju Raja Ram Aur Main (Hindi)
This Hindi adaptation of the popular Marathi play Sahi Re Sahi, featuring Sharman Joshi is a comedy following the death of an industrialist, who caught his second wife red-handed with her lover, who happened to be his PA.
ON Today, 7 pm
AT Tata Theatre, NCPA

Jagadamba (English)
While Rohini Hattangadi played the pivotal role of Kasturba Gandhi in this 2009 Marathi play written by Ramdas Bhatkal, its English version featuring Yashodhara Deshpande Maitra was recently staged in the city.

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