Review: Bombay Black

Although the ivory tower story—a young maiden locked away from the world—is a classic tale, Anosh Irani’s compelling Bombay Black (directed for Vancouver's Fringe Festival by Rohit Chokhani offers the concept through new light. The damsel in distress is a dancer, the captor her mother, and the prince a mysterious man. Irani’s plot is not so much a linear tale as it is an unfolding of the intersecting life paths of these three characters.

Photo by Zahida Rahemtulla

Photo by Zahida Rahemtulla

Set in modern-day India, the minimalist stage invites the audience into the home of Padma and her daughter, Aspara. From this setting, we watch the lives and secrets of their family unravel. Padma holds an entrepreneurial approach as a mother by having her daughter give private dances for men. Aspara endures her mother’s dealings with resigned willingness, deprived of enthusiasm. From the very start, the tensions between the two is palpable and foreshadows what we soon learn to be a volatile relationship. 

When a blind customer, Kamal, arrives for his private session with Aspara, Padma assures him that this is not a brothel and that while the dances are erotic, there is no touching permitted. To the confusion of both mother and daughter, Kamal wants only to be in the girl’s presence. As the story progresses, the mystery of Kamal expands to change the lives of the mother and daughter.

Nimet Kanji (Jessie Award nominee) delivers an authentically raw Padma, a woman for whom life has not met her expectations. She is scorned and bitter, hungry for a revenge which veils her deeper hunger for validation. Kanji brings the play from a theatrical level to a visceral experience. Her humour shines through in Padma’s mischievousness and she brings tangibility to the tormented soul that is revealed to us. There are tender moments in which you yearn to embrace the Padma, in no small part due to the believability of the portrayal.

Agam Darshi (Leo Award winner) draws us closer to Aspara throughout the play. Just as Padma’s taught her to do when dancing, Aspara reveals herself to us slowly, piece by piece. At the beginning, the character could be seen as two-dimensional, but with each progression of the story, the intricacy of her personhood is made evident. By the end of the play, Darshi’s portrayal of Aspara is fleshed out with vulnerability, jadedness, and desire.

Photo by Zahida Rahemtulla

Photo by Zahida Rahemtulla

Munish Sharma (Jessie Award nominee) brings a dichotomy of strength and weakness to the blind Kamal. Kamal is propelled by a hopefulness that borders on foolishness. He has sought after Aspara to balm his pained past and fulfilling his dreams for his future. He chooses to live suspended in a certain level of fantasy: “Mythology is a poor man’s diet; only rich men can afford reality.

Resonating throughout each character is the connecting theme that they are all victims of circumstance. Each character is driven by incidents which both haunt and inspire them. The complexity of their dynamics and dark intentions leave you conflicted about what you hope happens for the story’s resolution. 

Director Rohit Chokhani has brought this vibrant feature to life for the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival’s Dramatic Works Series. His cast and crew have done a great service to playwright Anosh Irani’s lyrical, humorous, and somber work; fuelled with cultural depth and theatrical talent.

Bombay Black runs from September 7 to 16 at the Vancity Culture Lab and is exemplary of Fringe’s reputation for enriching the city with captivating performance arts.

Visit the Fringe Festival website, and grab tickets to the show! Bombay Black will be at the Vancity Culture Club from September 9 to 13, with a final show on September 16.