The bride in the firmament

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What’s Your Rashee? is the latest avatar in a string of adaptations of a forgotten Gujarati novel, finds Nisha Susan

ABOOK WRITTEN in 1973, turned into Ketan Mehta’s hit television serial Mr Yogi in 1989 and adapted into successful Gujarati and English plays through the 1980s – it’s a rare Gujarati novel that runs into seven editions. Outside the Gujarati theatre world, though, most people’s introduction to 67-year-old author Madhu Rye and his book Kimball Ravenswood will be through What’s Your Rashee?, a new Ashutosh Gowarikar film. It stars Priyanka Chopra and promises a fresh take on the much-adapted but still entertaining tale of an NRI searching for a suitable bride.

In Mr Yogi, YI Patel is summoned home by the ruse of a ‘mother serious’ telegram. Yogi (played by Mohan Gokhale) sets out reluctantly to meet girls of all kinds. Naushil Mehta, who wrote the movie’s screenplay, accounts for the new technological aids for those trekking across the matrimonial wilderness: the cellphone and internet. But some things haven’t changed. “The first 10 minutes when a man and a woman meet still hold great potential for comedy, sadness, tragedy, insight,” says Mehta. While in college, Gowarikar caught 30 shows of Mehta’s theatrical adaptation of Kimball Ravenswood. Gowarikar was already a fan of Mehta’s work. In college, he starred in Mehta’s play Naushil Mehta Commits Suicide – the production named after the lead as Ashutosh Gowarikar Commits Suicide (a title Bollywood would have craved to use at several times in his career.) As in Mehta’s version, a single heroine plays 12 characters – the 12 different girls the hero meets.

In College, Ashutosh Gowarikar Caught 30 Shows Of A Theatrical Adaptation Of Kimball Ravenswood

Rye’s work has been, then and now, a bit unusual. Says Mehta, “Gujaratis aren’t usually accused of having a sense of humour. Rye has a fantastic sense of humour and is unique for his rendering the frailties of being Gujarati.” Rye started writing his zany short stories as an impoverished Kolkata teenager. Madhusudhan Thaker entered a short story contest for the money, and took the pen name ‘Madhu Rye’ and Rs 250 as second prize. Later, he joined an Ahmedabad newspaper. Mrinalini Sarabhai was the first director of his play Koi Punn Ek Phool Nu Naam Bolo Tho. (Tell Me The Name of a Flower) Based in New York, Rye still writes for Gujarati periodicals and the movie has created a spurt of interest in him. Rye’s fame may have been limited by language, but admirers always mention his gift for universalising his Gujarati characters’ experiences. It was this charm of specificity that first inspired playwright Mahesh Dattani, who calls Rye ‘the Master of Dhamaal’. Dattani watched Rye’s Koi Punn as a 10-yearold in Bengaluru. Structured as a play within a play where an actress shoots a member of the audience, it riddled the real audience with thrills. Dattani instantly became obsessed with theatre, the phenomenon that could silence the gossipy and distracted.

One can apparently go through school in Gujarat without hearing of the award-winning Rye. Certainly, the average young Gujarati is not burdened by Rye’s fame or comic vision. But it seems the attempt to find a copy of Kimball Ravenswood might be worth the certain trouble.

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