Delhi’s Tadpole Repertory, a company of modest means in one of the most populous cities on earth, tells the story of a face in the crowd
Taramandal: at least twice as long as necessary
Project Cube, Dublin
There’s no such thing as a small part, or so the old adage goes: just small actors. Neel Chaudhuri’s play – based on Satyajit Ray’s delicately simple short story, Patol Babu: Film Star – is a sentimental depiction of the big dreams of “small fry”, the background stories of the “background parts”.
Told with appropriately modest means by Delhi’s recently founded Tadpole Repertory, Ray’s story is embellished and padded out with episodes of fantasy and failure devised with Chaudhuri’s cast. The almost exclusively illusion-popping experiences meander from comical school auditions and encounters with blunt agents to the precariousness of a being a single drop in the ocean.
As Andrew Hoffland’s sweetly oblivious fiftysomething, Patol Babu, gets to grips with his part – a pedestrian the hero bumps into, who might as easily have been played by a lamppost – both the story and Chaudhuri’s methods enforce the same message: that there is a wealth of ambition behind a penury of means. Does it follow that performance in India requires a Patol-sized bubble of naivety?
If the aesthetic of the show – for which spaces are indicated with the brisk repositioning of boxes and coat rails – recalls the fleet assembly of any given student production, that may reflect the rough-hewn realities of independent Indian theatre, struggling in the shadows of the country’s gargantuan film industry. It also amplifies the innocence of the show. Just as Patol is comically oblivious to his position in the machine, buffeted between ego and insecurity, the interstitial scenes have the wavery quality of improv, where each prospective actor seems oblivious to their own limitations. That they are motivated solely by the desire to be famous, or, at least, not anonymous, seems to be chief among them.
At two hours, the production is at least twice as long as necessary, as though Chaudhuri was determined to give his six performers equal time in the spotlight reiterating ideas rather than advancing them. Nothing is quite as resonant, though, as Sandeep Shikar’s blowhard film agent, who advises Kriti Pant’s pretty, aspiring young actress to become an extra instead. “If you can’t stand apart from the crowd,” he says, “join it.”
In a city of 17 million people, that holds as much poignancy as pragmatism, and Patol’s lesson is to heed it. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Until October 12