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I hate bouncers. The bouncer, by virtue of his job description, attends more gigs than most of us. But music, in this one instance, consistently fails to soothe the savage beast. I have taken them on a few times, always with ugly results. But I refuse to give up. Each time I see one, I […]

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I hate bouncers. The bouncer, by virtue of his job description, attends more gigs than most of us. But music, in this one instance, consistently fails to soothe the savage beast. I have taken them on a few times, always with ugly results. But I refuse to give up. Each time I see one, I am filled with the mad self-destructive urge to ram my head into his thick shiny belt buckle, differences in size, weight and height notwithstanding.

I am at the Mirage in Nehru Place, New Delhi. I am here to catch the third instalment of the Medicine Show. There is a bouncer at the door blocking my entry. “Only sooj allowed,” he says, pointing at my red Puma floaters. “And only kapal antry,” he says, jabbing the air with his fat bejewelled finger, casting his eyes to my left then to my right. I turn my head expectantly, forlornly, to either side of me but there’s nobody. Soon another bouncer joins him. Bouncer 1 turns to him and complains. Bouncer 2 whispers back, “Aaj sab allowed hai. Paise lo aur jane do.”

The Medicine Show is a curious mix of burlesque theatre, Broadway musical, plain farce and unabashed desiness. The first couple of performances at The Living Room, a restaurant in Hauz Khas village, were so successful that the show had to move to a bigger venue. The mix for the night includes members of the band Emperor Minge, actors from Tadpole Repertory – a theatre group, and an assortment of eccentric freelancers.

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Putting up a show which draws heavily on European traditions of the cabaret is not easy in Delhi. Given the Punjabi predilection for moral paranoia, finding a venue can be a problem. As the soft-spoken Stef – one of the brains behind the show – points out, “Pub owners often say ”˜no’ because they think this is only about titillating audiences. They tell me that theirs is a respectable joint. I tell them this is not that cabaret. This is art.”

The show is unpredictable. An airhostess informs us in chaste Hindi that we can open the door to the right of the stage and step out for a smoke. The host for the evening, the stand-up comic Papa CJ, hops around like a frog with extra hop. The audience is never allowed to sit back and daydream. The performers are always testing us, throwing out challenges, interrogating us. It reaches a point where the power goes off and someone in the audience gags, “This too must be part of the act, man!” It’s clever farce, something that Delhi audiences are not used to.

The highlights include Shelli’s wild-haired goggle-eyed rendition of ”˜Pirate Jenny,’ the Weill/Brecht classic from “The Threepenny Opera”; Anjoe’s rendition of the Peggy Lee number ”˜Do Right’ which has lithe, lissome, pint-sized Anjoe (Thumbelina on speed?) and her wobbly ”˜husband’ Neel staggering and falling over each other with perfect timing; and the wonderfully dilettantish Piyush Wadhera singing his version of the Bobby hit ”˜Na Mangoo Sona Chandi’ with the refrain, “Gay, gay, gay, gay.”

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The Medicine Show shocks, surprises, entertains. And it’s bursting with young out-of-the-box talent hungry to prove a point. As one performer put it, “If my Dad ever saw me belly-dancing here, he’d reach for his shotgun.”

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