Jesus Christ Superstar

By Sunil Kumar

The poor man’s Rio. A description of Mumbai somewhere streaming through my consciousness. Except that it’s not factually correct. Neither is it Navi Kolkata! The island city is somewhere in between; a phantasmic illusion of happiness and delusion. The sinner that needs redemption; so here we are; to the Western idea of “Jesus Christ Superstar”.

Somebody from Pratapgarh; Raja Bhaiya territory brings me to the supposed “Queen of Mumbai Suburbiana”; Bandra. Except that it’s a sea of skull caps and a supposedly engaging market. Give me peace and quiet any day.

I walk down the road; with a few people moving towards the arena; a jumbled maze of lanes; typical of Bombay; small villages(gaothans) that have now transformed into a metropolis. Practically all of India has similar cities; a mix of urban overgrowth and shanty towns; a curious mix of love, life and indifference.

There are helpful people here surely; but some of the city has an unhelpful coarse swagger. The cliched descriptions of financial capital, political capital and technology capital are now old hat; and after visiting Delhi and Bengaluru; I believe that words have the capacity to romanticize the reader; and reality is stranger than fiction. Perceptions are imaginative windows; illusions can often be short-circuited when they are tempered by actual fact.

The place seems somewhat familiar; I’ve won the first prize in a quiz here more than a decade back; and my brain wants to understand the fuss behind “Jesus Christ Superstar”; a musical that was supposedly controversial many years back; and the fact that maverick adman Alyque Padamsee is supposedly behind this Indian concoction.

Was I enthused, enchanted or depressed? Nothing of the sort; the musical was somewhere in between; not as entertaining as a jazz fest I’ve been to or some of the things I was planning to attend. The story of Jesus is one of the most overplayed in history; and the veracity of the Gospels has been called into question by Western Historians themselves. Nevertheless it is an appealing tale; and I remember the smell of fish and a portrait of the “Last Supper” at a neighbor’s house many years back.

The musical starts late; and begins with a spotlight on the lives of Jesus, Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene. I know the Biblical tale; but this is a more song-and-dance; Bollywood style version. Except for the fact that personally the Western idea of incessant speech in song is anathema to my ears; and I prefer old Hindi songs; musical and meaningful.

The crowds around Mona Singh were amusing; the fluttering eyelashes; an aging industrialist photographing her with the ubiquitous mobile phone. The interval brought crowds; and I mistook the old rocker Gary Lawyer for the arty-farty director Imtiaz Ali. After a kind conversation; I was back at my seat; perched at the top of the old theatre; gazing down at the debauchery and the spectacle about to unfold.

The singing was credible; but somehow the performance was boring; lacking the spunk and the pizzazz of what might probably be other versions of this musical in other countries. Surrounded by a sea of Bandra’s typical denizens was okay; but not very enlivening. The hype around Bombay is a creation of some lively minds; and it lives up to the hype fully only in the movies.

The crucifixion is the final denouement; the image that was somehow supposed to be moving. But; it felt like more of a deadpan climax; and I somehow yearned for more. Salman might have crooned about the city’s roads in an old Hindi movie; and only some of us can faintly remember when there were fewer people in this suburb and the city.

The final consolation; an old man brings me back to the magical world of brilliant cinemascopic melodies playing in his semi-new cab. He tells me about his native place; the drug addicts in the government’s new overbridges and robberies. Like many of his kind; a storyteller. But that’s the case for all of humanity. God in heaven; and all is right with the world.


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