Photos – Glen Wilson
Family, time, love, cultural identity, the migrant experience, magic and aging – themes which manifest as disappointment and frustration, resentment, compromise and broken promises. All universal and all found in Rajendra Moodley’s, The Perfume Garden, currently playing at Chapel Off Chapel. This revival (last staged at The Athenaeum in 2007) has been reworked and sees the introduction of 15 dancers from Ignite Bollywood and The Victorian State Ballet, alongside the original 5 characters.
Pitched as “a comedy/drama/satire with explosions of Bollywood Extravaganza”, I found its humour bittersweet. Whilst the dance sequences uplifting. A way of adding to the melodrama and highlighting the fantasy elements, whilst re-iterating the themes with their opulence, colour and energy.
Set in an outer Melbourne suburban spice shop, the play opens on our protagonist, Anand (with playwright Rajendra Moodley in the role), as a failed poet who “lives at home, works in the shop and has mum do everything for him.” It’s his proposal day, a cause for celebration, yet we find Anand reluctant to commit to his intended, Devi. We later learn this proposal came through expectation, rather than love.
Anand is a disappointment to his unyielding father, Satya. He’s a dreamer, dabbling in alchemy. Believing the exotic oils stocked in the shop possess magical and medicinal powers and constantly fantasizing about being in his own Bollywood movie (cue the dance sequences).
Left to look after an 80 year old catatonic, wheelchair bound stroke victim, Ayah, Anand with his magic potions, releases Ayah as a genie – but only in his presence. She’s liberating, candid and uninhibited and implores him to be the master of his own destiny. There’s an obvious affection between the two, much more than with the prickly Devi.
Devi is a hapless character, one which elicits sympathy. She’s trying to escape her suffocating parents back in India and is prepared to settle for this relationship. Aspiring “to a townhouse in Melton or Caroline Springs, where everything is painted beige.” It’s a telling remark.
The dialogue is dark and unsettling and effectively defines the characterisations. They are all ordinary people grappling with the small joys (seemingly scarce) and heartache, coupled with the migrant experience. It’s not particularly flattering.
For me, the standout performance was Khema De Silva as Ayah. As the voice of reason (our inner voice), she beautifully captured that sense of despair, abandonment and wisdom. Asking where’s the compassion, tenderness and love whilst delivering her satirical lines with scorn and punchy comedic timing.
Moodley’s work presents the banality of everyday life with Paul Watson’s set design, the tired colour palette of the shop, reflecting those of its ailing owners.
For this Indian family, the result is an unflinchingly honest, anti rom-com, Bollywood piece.
Australian Bollywood Productions, in association with What’s On Production Company, Ignite Bollywood and the Victorian State Ballet presents
THE PERFUME GARDEN
by Rajendra Moodley
Directed by Paul Watson
Venue: The Chapel - Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Dates: 2 – 13 August 2017
Tickets: $59 – $45
Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au | 03 8290 7000