By Manju Sampat

This weekend saw the opening shows of famed director Lillette Dubey’s new play, “Salaam, Noni Appa”, at the Tata theatre and at St. Andrew’s auditorium. Adhir Bhat has adapted the script of this play from Twinkle Khanna’s short story of the same name, which is part of her short story collection, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. Kudos to Primetime theatre, and the seasoned actors of this production, for breathing life into this otherwise unremarkable tale.

Noni Appa (Lillette Dubey), a widow in her sixties, spends most of her time with her widowed sister, Binni (Jayati Bhatia). Though complete opposites, they are totally dependent on each other for emotional support. Noni, is dignified and elegant, a bit reserved, and very concerned about what others think of her. Binni, on the other hand is boisterous and fun loving, always thinking about what activity to get involved with next. Whether it was embroidery or art classes, she approached them with an equal amount of zest, but soon lost interest in them. So now it was a yoga class she wanted to join and persuaded Noni Appa to join it as well. Anandji (Darshan Jariwala), their yoga teacher, is unhappily married to Jyotsana (Meher Acharya), a shrew of a wife. The play revolves around the loving banter and bickering of the two sisters and the unexpected feelings of love developing between Noni Appa and the married yoga teacher, Anandji. This mature romance develops slowly but surely, and even though Noni Appa is hesitant to acknowledge her feelings at first, Anandji’s selfless devotion to her while she was really sick, prods her to accept his love, a love that does not necessarily “make their heart go a flutter, but certainly makes it hum”. And ultimately they do decide to spend their life together, “listening to that hum”!
The three protagonists of the play are really very effective in their roles. Darshan Jariwala is very believable as Anandji as is Jayati Bhatia as Binni. She is really quite brilliant. Lillette Dubey is the perfect Noni Appa and after reading the original story, I feel these actors have been aptly cast in their respective roles.

Salim Akhtar’s set design and lighting, is very appropriate as it uses the stage space to show the two homes of Binni and Noni Appa very effectively. At one point when Binni is trying to persuade Noni to see a video of a prospective groom for her daughter Mallika, this is very cleverly projected on stage. Needless to say the groom is vetoed by Noni Appa. Meher Acharya plays the role of Mallika, when she briefly returns from London laden with gifts for her aunt Binni, who rather fancies the “Marks and Spencer’s bras that can lift you straight up from the basement to the third floor”! Meher is also the sharp tongued Jyotsna, and she essays both roles very aptly. Rishi Khurana as the all purpose watchman, cum houseboy is hilarious.
Fab India has apparently co-produced the play. It is a joy to see the entire cast in beautiful Fab India outfits. They really are a feast for the eye!