“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself there.” said Meryl Streep
In other words, an actor brings the script to life. He adds a new dimension to the character. People make their perception based on what actor plays. It is said that giving 100% to 1 character is difficult and takes a lot of dedication and time. But after watching ‘Massage’ I would disagree with this statement. This play breaks all the common notions about acting. This play has 24 different characters and all the characters a played by a single actor. And guess who, Rakesh Bedi is the one who plays all the characters. This play is an aspiring actor, Happy Singh, who struggles to get into this industry but ends up becoming a masseur. His encounters with different clients, each with a different trait, is what grips the audience.
Honestly speaking, I thought how will I sit across this whole monologue? But as soon as it started my thoughts of leaving that auditorium was completely changed. I was so engrossed in the play that I did not realize when it ended.
If we start from the title than ‘Massage’ is apt for this story because it refers to one’s emotional state which is hampered due to the problems he has faced in his life. The story starts with the arrival of the protagonist, Happy Singh, to the city of dreams, Mumbai. Then he somehow meets Kohli Sahab and he offers him to become his 4th AD. From this point, his journey starts. After few years he quits the job as he thinks that this industry has nothing to offer him. He then moves on and becomes a gym trainer. During this period, he learns different techniques of massage and becomes a masseur.
He justified each character of the story. Be it Kohli Sahab with his Punjabi mannerism and accent or cabinet minister’s PA with his slurred speech or stranger who makes ‘happy’ sad or heroine’s mother who tries to molest Happy. He was so true to his characters that I was able to visualize minutest details of this play. Like how Mr. Kohli would appear or how his room would look. Surprisingly character transition was smooth.
The play was minimal about set design. It only comprised of a bench, a chair, one stool and a door. Yeah, that’s it. But they effectively lifted the play to a next level. Though furniture and props were very minimal, it did not affect me much because it was matching to each scene of the play. Even lighting played a major role in this play. It was very effective to set the mood of the scene. Like red in intense scenes, blue in romantic scenes and even yellow when there is some emotional scene. Though these are very minimal but they play a major role in this act. The best use of lighting I could observe was when scene shifts from humorous to an intense one. Suddenly we see the red light and this change helps the audience to visualize and connect with the story. Sound comes next. Until a play or act is supported by the good quality of sound it is not considered as a complete act. So the sound here is well choreographed and beautifully used. Light plays with your emotions during this play but sound actually elevates that emotion.
This monologue is quite difficult to pull off on a stage by a single actor but director Harbans Singh was focused on the script and its execution. That is why do not question about set design or lighting or sound because he has paid so much attention to the content that these things do not matter to the audience. Harbans Singh has utilized limited props and has set them in such a way that they get utilized in a proper way according to the scene. If we see this play, it is hard to pull off such minimal play but it was Mr. Harbans’ dedication which made this play successful.
This play is very different from others. It is because of its storyline which makes it so different and popular amongst other plays. Vijay Tendulkar has brilliantly written this play. This play starts with comedy and ends in a tragedy. In the first hour of the play we laugh on the failures of Happy Singh but then, in the end, we sympathize for Happy. He has minutely described all the characteristics of his characters. And then he has Rakesh Bedi on board who actually imbibes each character in himself. At a point, I felt that this story was written for Rakesh sir because it felt that this story was about Rakesh sir’s life struggle. But I would that this story is brilliantly written and executed. The way it plays with your emotions is what I like about this story. A story about struggling actor in Mumbai is a common topic and the way Vijay sir has used this element in his story is just amazing. And maybe because this topic is common people feel more attached towards it.
It is difficult to point out any problems in this play. Plays need a lot of dedication and play like this which is an hour and half long monologue requires a hell lot of practice and dedication. Playing 24 characters in this duration with proper voice modulation and mannerism without any jerk in the flow is a challenging task to do but somehow Rakesh sir pulled it off . If you notice carefully then Rakesh sir improvises his monologue depending on the audience, he is performing for. This was the best play I have ever seen. It wasn’t a play for me it was like watching the harsh reality of life in the concrete jungle.