Of hopelessness and humour

Updated: Sep 09, 2019, 07:38 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A play about friends falling out during a conversation first opened on Broadway with Al Pacino and Ben Gazzara. A version with local touches returns to Mumbai fronted by Danish Hussain and Naved Aslam

Of hopelessness and humour
Danish Husain and Naved Aslam. Pic/Anindo Ghosh

Only someone pursuing a vocation in the arts can truly understand the journey of a fellow artiste; the trials and tribulations of not choosing a "conventional" career, the ordeal of trudging along and not being able to make it despite the talent. This empathy became the foundation for the friendship between Harry, a novelist, and Jake, a photographer, in Ira Lewis’s Chinese Coffee. And the glimmer of hope towards the end of the play, "which epitomises the hope of every artiste who is trying to do a good job", is what drew Danish Husain to the production, which premiered on Broadway in 1992 with Al Pacino and Ben Gazzara playing the lead characters.

But between the opening scenes featuring the two friends and the ray of hope before the curtain call, runs a gamut of human emotions from camaraderie to jealousy, hatred and despair that Chinese Coffee is all about. Harry has been fired from his job, and he remembers that he had loaned a sum to Jake. It apparently seems that he has come to get back the money, but he wants to know Jake’s thoughts on his manuscript, too.

Charles Cioffi and Al Pacino in Chinese Coffee. Pic/Steve and Anita Shevett/The New York Public Library
Charles Cioffi and Al Pacino in Chinese Coffee. Pic/Steve and Anita Shevett/The New York Public Library

"The theme is so universal. The bond between two people may hold great promise of friendship, but it happens so often in life that two friends part ways or fall out," says Husain. The theatre director-actor’s first production of the play premiered in 2012, with shows across Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. After a three-year hiatus, the play is back with a role reversal of sorts, with Husain now playing Harry and actor Naved Aslam in the role of Jake — Yakub in Husain’s version — in place of Vrajesh Hirjee.

Husain first came across Chinese Coffee as Al Pacino’s cinematic adaptation of it, when he bought a pack of DVDs of his unreleased films in 2007. "It felt like it must have been a play. When I read up more on it, I realised that it indeed was the case," he says, adding, "Having spent two decades in theatre and a decade in cinema, the urge to break through resonated with me. And it isn’t financial success that one chases, but it’s the quest of being the benchmark of quality on your scene that an artiste desires."

A conversation between two characters, though in a completely different context, is also the core of Qissa Urdu ki Aakhri Kitaab Ka (2017), another of Husain’s plays. Is the format more aligned with his artistic practice? "Most theatre is conversation," he replies. "My grooming has been such that I am more attracted to text-based theatre that is more literary, intense and comes alive with two or characters on stage. The plot, therefore, opens through text, not a sequence of images, and actors become the medium of running the performance, not contraptions aimed at creating a spectacle."

On September 14, 6 pm and 9 pm; September 15, 5 pm and 8 pm
At Prithvi Theatre, Juhu.
Log on to bookmyshow.com
Entry Rs 500

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