The Desi Glitterati of Silicon Valley! ("Rumors" by Naatak)
The world itself seems to have turned into a farce. When I fire up my computer and click on my web browser, the news blurbs seem more insane every day. Russia is interfering in our elections. Again. There are reports of mind-boggling corruption. On some days, I click away from the news as quickly as possible to escape the madness, to not risk losing my mind before it is even 8 AM. It is hard to make sense of what is even going on, and how it all came to this. In light of all the craziness that seems to have taken over the world, what better way to spend an evening than by watching a hilarious farce put on by Naatak Theatre Company?! I watched Neil Simon’s Rumors, adapted, directed, and produced by Harish Agastya, on Saturday, February 22, 2020 at the Cubberley Auditorium in Palo Alto.
The play is about a celebrity couple who have invited some friends over to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. The first guests to arrive discover the host passed out with a gunshot wound. The hostess and the staff are nowhere to be seen. The other guests arrive and are left to prepare the celebratory meal on their own. They try to contain their own panic while making sure the host is receiving the medical attention he needs. They come up with wild possibilities as they struggle to make sense of whatever is going on, scheming to craft a narrative that will minimize damage to their professional, social and political aspirations. Neil Simon’s play is set in New York. Naatak’s play, entertainingly Indianized is set in, of course, Silicon Valley! The well-heeled, fashionably dressed desis in this play are among the glitterati of Silicon Valley, converging at a house in the posh Saratoga Hills.
Chakra, CEO of one of the most successful start-ups in Silicon Valley, and his wife Mira, who are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, have invited friends over for a celebration. They are never seen on stage.
Karishma Gautam (Kamala Subramanian, seen previously in Naatak’s Proof), a lawyer who works in the publishing industry and her husband Kailash Gautam (Chaitanya Godsay), Chakra’s corporate attorney, are the first to arrive. Shocked by what they see, they panic and start the ball rolling on the improbable tales.
Next to arrive is Suhas Gupta (Ritwik Verma), Chakra’s wealth manager, and his wife Kavya (Ekta Brahmkshatri.)
Then, Asif Karim (Natraj Kumar) and his wife Kuku Rao (Anjali Bhide) arrive. Asif, a scientist with a PhD in artificial intelligence from Stanford, is the CTO and co-founder of Chakra’s company. Kuku is wearing an incredibly old-fashioned outfit, and claims it is a 60-year-old dress, gifted by the Nizam of Hyderabad. (Kavya later quips that it's a 100-year-old hand-me-down from Saif Ali Khan’s grandmother!) This couple, cloyingly affectionate, is given to calling each other by the most hilarious endearments: he is the Asifoetida to her CousCous, the Zafrani Pulao to her Kuku Cola.
And finally, Nick Khanna (Chanpreet Singh), and his wife Kamini (Roshni Datta) appear. Nick is running for the State Senate, and shows up looking most dapper in attire reflecting his political aspirations: blue turban, red, white and blue tie, and red laces on his black shoes.
The guests are all dressed in fabulous party attire. The women comment on each other’s designer outfits. One asks, is that the one you wore at the Breast Cancer Foundation gala? The reply comes "No, Maitri banquet."
This reminded me of a time a couple of years ago when I was speaking with a school parent from neighboring Atherton, who was planning to attend some fancy gala in San Francisco with her husband. She had been trying to decide what to wear and I asked her what she had landed on. Oh, she replied, I’m wearing a Cavalli. Years of checking out the fashion pages in the New York Times for fun rang a bell… Roberto Cavalli. Not long ago, my daughter showed me a hilarious TikTok of the song “Walk a Mile in These Louboutins” as well as a desi version with kids dancing to “Walk a Mile in these Bata Chappals.”
We both chuckled as I said to her, “No Cavallis or Louboutins for us, kid, we’re sticking with the Bata chappals if you’d like to go to college. Every extra penny into the 529!” (For fancy attire, as it happens, our local "thrift" store has incredibly stunning designer outfits for a steal. Wealthy neighbors Zindabad!)
Back to the play, the guests carry on with their shenanigans until eventually, two cops show up: Officers Welch and Pudney, played by Bruce Blau and Deanna Shinsky respectively.
To their frustration, nobody will give them a straight answer! Suhas Gupta crafts a most amazing narrative for them on what has transpired at the house. But is it really just a story? We are left wondering at the end.
As Harish Agastya (who has previously directed Muavze, a political satire, and Marjorie Prime) writes in the Director's Note, timing is everything in a comedy. And each cast member delivers perfectly in this production. Suhas Gupta’s lines are particularly hilarious, and Ritwik Verma who plays him has a gift for comedy. Nursing a freshly acquired neck injury from a car accident on the way over to the party, his movements as well as his lines kept the audience in splits.
Ekta Brahmkshatri’s deadpan delivery as Kavya Gupta is terrific. Roshni Datta, who plays Kamini Khanna, seems to become every character she has portrayed: from Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata, to this slightly nutty, emotionally overwrought, crystal-gazing socialite. Anjali Bhide's exertions are delightfully comical as her character Kuku attempts to cook while struggling with her back pain.
I remember being a little thrown off during an earlier Naatak production, Proof, in which the characters in the Western play were played by desis, but as though they were not desis, even though they spoke like desis. In comparison, the desification of Rumors is delightfully done and is very appealing. The comedic elements that are specific to South Asians drew much laughter. Mistaking Asif for a butler, Kamini asks for "water, no ice," the preference of perhaps 95% of South Asians. Suhas Gupta is reduced to spelling his name out every time he calls the doctor’s office. (Hasn’t every South Asian gone through this?! R as in Roger, A as in Apple, J as in Japan, I as in India! Unless you are Nick or Harry, I suppose....) And the horror of a mispronounced name is presented with Kamini’s name: when pronounced correctly, as Kaamini, it means beautiful, desirable. When pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, as is often the case here in Amreeka, it becomes Kameeni, a slur. Yikes!
If you’d like to be thoroughly entertained and end up with sides aching from laughter, head right over to Cubberley Auditorium this weekend and leave the madness of the world behind for a couple of hours.