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Review: Jyotsna Jyoti’s ‘An Artful Evening‘

Set in an art exhibition, Sydney-based writer-director Jyotsna Jyoti’s An Artful Evening takes a close look at life, success and relationships.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

As a comment on contemporary Indian-Australian society, the characters in Jyotsna Jyoti’s play An Artful Evening are easily identifiable. 

On the one hand we have those old-timers who have made it and have moved to the high society side of town with the prestige car in the garage, and on the other, fresh-off-the-boats who want to live that very dream. In between are the trophy wives, the botox beauties and the Gucci gang; restaurant hands who are really qualified chartered accountants; spineless sycophants who will game the system to get ahead… and the odd well-meaning woman entrepreneur with her head screwed on right.

All hit close to home – just cast a look around you. 

Coming together from their different walks of life on one fateful evening, they hold up a mirror to us all. And in doing so, they take us back to our early days here, to assess our evolution into who we’ve become, and reexamine our life goals. 

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Simran Gulati and Rushi Dave (Source: Supplied)

It was Rushi Dave as Rajat who took the honours in An Artful Evening. He shone throughout, and not unsurprisingly, as his performance had several dimensions  – the hypertension of the troubled businessman, the unhealthy sense of professional competition and one-upmanship with a close friend, the patience with a demanding wife (the frustration at her vacuousness seeping through periodically), the servitude in front of a powerful father-in-law, the anger at the lost heirloom, and the final devastating breakdown at the news of a tragedy. At each level, Rushi seemed in control, even when his role required him to lose control.

Contrasting Rushi’s character, was Saurabh Datar in a strong portrayal as Gaurav. As the newbie migrant who has arrived with nothing other than his educational qualifications,  he has to slave away as a kitchen hand and count every penny as he helps his family back home. He portrayed the grindstone mindset and strong morals with conviction.

Talking of morals, his partner on the bottom rung of Indian-Australian society is a lot less servile. Tarun Jain, in a strong turn as Ash, played the glib-talking risk-taker who is not averse to bending the rules in his quest to get ahead. He’s an artful dodger (with apologies to Charles Dickens.)

Ash and Gaurav, an artful evening
Saurabh Datar (left) and Tarun Jain (Source: Supplied)

Simran Gulati as the airheaded daddy’s girl Shikha, who’s always got everything she ever wanted, presented perfectly in her Barbie pink and catwalk sashay. She came though quite satisfactorily at the end, redeeming her character with uncharacteristic unpretentiousness in the support of her husband, who had collapsed with the exhaustion of the pretense of it all. 

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Archana Misra (Source: Supplied)

Archana Misra’s role as Ria was intended clearly to balance the often negative energies of Rajat. Although soft-spoken, she managed to find her feet to stand up to the challenge written for her and take Rajat on as an opponent. Equally, she became the grounding to the frothiness of Shikha, just as much with her ‘in control’ body language as with her smart but sensible attire. An Artful evening

In the end, Misra’s success came from being the friend everyone must have in their life. Find a stayer like Ria. Better still, be a stayer like Ria.

It’s entirely possible that Ria flourished, thanks in no small measure, to a play in contrast with another character, Sonia (Sarwat Zahra), Shikha’s gossipy bestie. (Exhibit A: Sonia’s impossible heels as opposed to Ria’s sensible shoes.) Sarwat owned her role, giving off Susanne Khan vibes in her designer get-up.

A criticism of the play is the monologue at the end about living truthfully, which came off as rather preachy. Was it necessary, given the audience might have been able to draw out that lesson on their own? Or was it thrown in there skilfully, by having the smooth-talking charlatan deliver it?

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Jyotsna Jyoti (Source: Supplied)

Jyotsna Jyoti’s comment about the origins of the play might have the answer.  “The seed of this story sprouted when I encountered real life characters who had made it big in life, and lost sight of what is important,” she told Indian Link. “They’ve forgotten they were strugglers themselves at one stage.”

The theme of friendship also meanders through. “There’s no time to develop deep friendships here, we’ve often heard people say. Well, you’ve got to be a good friend, to get a good friend.” 

It is the character of Ria that Jyotsna speaks of with most fondness. As a powerful woman storyteller herself, it is not surprising she is partial to strong female characters. “Powerful women are too often portrayed as ruthless bitches,” she lamented. “Surely they can be compassionate as well? Honestly, I could not find a role model from screen for Archana to emulate when she asked for one.”

If she intended Ria to be such a character, then Archana Misra may just have come through, in the end.   An Artful Evening

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Sarwat Zahra and Archana Misra (Source: Supplied)

The set itself was simple but cryptic in its message. The works of art on proud display, were just that: display. The keeping up of a hollow show. An elaborate pretense that was masking an emptiness.

As such, it encapsulated the very essence of the plot.

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Cast and crew of An Artful Evening (Source: Supplied)

READ ALSO: ‘King James‘: An intimate story of male friendship

Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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