Saturday, August 28, 2010

“The Idea Man”: A Tragedy in One Act, an Entertainment for No Reason

The Characters:CHAP – an aspiring screenwriter.MAN – a movie producer, to begin with.WOMAN – shares some sort of strange dysfunctional relationship with CHAP that is not immediately apparent and, indeed, never quite is.

[The set is spare, vaguely resembling the India Coffee House or some similar place. Time is around noon. A MAN sits at a table, occasionally glancing at a huge wall clock opposite him, sipping cold coffee. A plate of French fries sits untouched before the MAN. The fries look a bit green. The MAN is dressed casually, but in good taste – hair gelled, shirt crisply ironed, nose-ring polished, etc. A laptop case rests next to him on the ground, and a cell phone sits in front of him next to the plate of greenish fries. As this quiet scene of urban inactivity slowly begins to sink in, a brief word on the action to follow: every little movement hereon must be very stylized and exaggerated, like in a John Woo action sequence or a Benny Hinn sermon; in fact, if a few doves can be trained to fly across the stage in tight formation at regular intervals, we might even achieve something close to Perfection. The dialogue delivery from all players should be rapid-fire and breathless, like in the disclaimers at the end of those mutual fund commercials. Optionally, the whole play can be performed in mime. I leave it entirely to those in charge of the production. As the true purport of these stage directions slowly fails to sink in, we cut back to the coffee house: a second man suddenly rushes in. This new CHAP’s the very same CHAP who’s been making the MAN wait somewhat impatiently these last three and a quarter minutes. The CHAP is dressed in the pseudo-intellectual prerequisite of faded khadi kurta, frayed jeans and high heels.]

CHAP: Ghastly hangover. Head feels like it's been bashed in by a myopic polo-playing bicycle-riding weather god.

MAN: Lucky you!

CHAP: I could use a good hard swig of cough syrup.

MAN: So could I.

CHAP: Really, though, I’m terribly terribly sorry. I’m a total bastard for having made you wait so long, a complete slimeball…

MAN: To be sure.

CHAP: …an insensitive moron…

MAN: Undeniably.

CHAP: …a rotten, good for nothing piece of…

MAN: Of course, of course.

CHAP: …er, piece of…um… shitty, er... Hey!

MAN: Yes?

CHAP: Heyyyy!

MAN: What?

CHAP: What are you trying to imply?

MAN: What, then, am I trying to imply?

CHAP: Yeah, what are you saying?

MAN: I’m saying that the concept of pain is subjective, existence is futile and that death is the only absolute. In fact, I’ll go a step further and add that the very concept of devising such a concept is relative and ephemeral.

CHAP [after a long pause]: Oh.

MAN: Of course, that only applies to Windows users… So then. How about that story then?

CHAP: Stop it!

MAN: But then, why did you call me here today?

CHAP: You called me.

MAN: No, you called me.

CHAP: No, you called me.

MAN: But then, I thought then…

CHAP: Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! You’re driving me bollocks!

MAN: What, what, what then?

CHAP: Stop adding “then” to every sentence! You’re overdoing it, don’t you see?

MAN: I disagree. “Then” is a versatile word that adds much character to an otherwise unwieldy sentence, relaxing it and making it sound more conversational. It also works as a qualifier in a statement of logic. For example, the following sentence would be meaningless without the added Then: “A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” Without the then, the sentence will, then, become “A little nonsense now, and is relished by the wisest men”, which is about as coherent as this city’s recent developmental initiatives. And it doesn’t even rhyme! So you see, then?

CHAP: You’re a pedantic ass and you irritate me to no end.

MAN: Right then. How, then, about your story?

CHAP: The story, THEN? Yes, yes, THEN. Let’s get on with it… THEN. Do you have any tissue on you… THEN? You’ll need to take notes… THEN. Thenthethenthenthen. THEN!

MAN [with a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink]: Brought my lappy. [He starts extricating his laptop from its case.]

CHAP: Ooh, ooh, ooh, nice. Where can I get one of those?

MAN: Cooke Town Park, Hutchins Road. Grows on a tamarind tree there.

CHAP: Seriously?

MAN: If I say I never lie, would you believe me?

CHAP: I’ll believe anything so long as it’s free.

MAN: You sound skeptical.

CHAP: That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me!

MAN: That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever said to anyone. The story, then?

CHAP: It’s about a girl who falls asleep under a banyan tree while reading the collected grocery lists of Joseph Campbell.

MAN [shuts laptop, starts to rise]: Right, I think I’ve heard enough.

CHAP: No, no, wait, wait! That’s only the beginning! Just give me a minute, okay?

MAN: Said the dying embers to the mutton chop. [He sits back down.]

CHAP: So this girl starts to nod off, right? Just then…arrgh!… out of the corner of her eye, she sees a small man with long ears running like a frightened little civil servant towards a hole in the ground.

MAN: I predict a copyright lawsuit and global infamy.

CHAP: I know, I know, you think I pinched the plot from Lewis Carrol, right?

MAN: You must be clairvoyant.

CHAP: My mother used to wear long skirts and work in a circus.

MAN: I thought as much.

CHAP: There’s a twist to the story, though.

MAN: She eloped with the cow that jumped over the moon?

CHAP: What?

MAN: What?

CHAP: What what?

MAN: What what what?

CHAP: What what what what?

MAN: What what what what WHAT!

CHAP: This is ridiculous.

MAN: Not as ridiculous as the dance ban. And now, if you’ll excuse me, [once more starts putting away laptop] I have an appointment with a smart man about a sure thing…

CHAP: Hey, hang on! We’ve only just started!

MAN: I am the alpha and the omega, the salt as well as the Quit India Movement. What makes you special?

CHAP [puffs out chest in pride]: Well, just so you know, the high point of the screenplay is an excessively violent scene involving a renegade air-pillow.

MAN [considers this for a moment, and pulls his laptop out again]: Okay, I’ll stay.

CHAP: Thanks. I’ll buy your coffee.

MAN: I never doubted that.

CHAP: Look, if you’re going to be that way…

MAN: I wasn’t, but now I think I will.

CHAP: Give me a chance, will you?

MAN: Take two, I’m feeling generous. So the rabbit jumps into a hole, and…?

CHAP: Ah, now there’s the gimmick. The rabbit isn’t a rabbit at all, see? It’s really Loki, creature of mischief and mayhem from the Norse myths.

MAN: Jesus!

CHAP: No, Loki. He vanishes into a deep dark inter-dimensional wormhole. The girl follows after him, tumbles in, falls and falls and falls and falls and falls and falls and falls and falls and…

MAN: Etcetera, etcetera, yes, yes, a rough picture emerges. You have an engaging narrative style, I must admit.

CHAP [looking genuinely pleased]: Oh, it’s a talent, it really is. I got it from my grammy on my daddywaddy’s side. Back in the swinging 60s, my grammammy was the singing seamstress of the C.P.I. (M). Grammywammy was so brilliant she could compose limericks on request, even while threading needles. She passed away, in a freak accident, when… [Someone starts playing a cheery accompaniment on a piano off-stage, and the CHAP gets to his feet and delivers the following in the form of a hoedown] …she suddenly developed a stutter while eating aloo mutter, then slipped on some butter and fell into a gutter, in gay ole Calcutter. [Piano music stops. CHAP winds down, wipes a crocodile tear from his eye, and looks generally embarrassed.] But let’s get on with the story. After much falling, the girl makes a hard landing in…

MAN: …Hampi?

CHAP [shocked]: Good god! How did you know?

MAN: I divine the day’s events off the dried bits at the bottom of my porridge bowl.

CHAP: Well, you’re quite right, surprisingly. The girl lands right on top of a particularly sharp rock on Bazaar Street in Hampi. And here the action hots up. An old Dutch hippie helps her up and feeds her a stale piece of magic apple strudel that turns her into a big red and blue monster with Condoleezza Rice’s face, Dev Anand’s swagger and Simi Garewal’s comic timing.

MAN: You really believe there’s a movie in this?

CHAP [getting out of his chair, increasingly excited, waving his arms about, doing cartwheels, etc.]: Wait, it gets better! At this point, just when fear, confusion and a group of fascinated Korean tourists start assailing the young monster from every conceivable angle, Dara Singh appears in a puff of smoke and a flash of lightning. He’s dressed like Thor, Norse god of inclement weather, with a sledgehammer clutched in one hand and a vegetable burger in the other. The veggie burger, of course, is the wild fantasy aspect of the story, the strange otherworldly thing that questions reality and existence and semantics and all that sort of thing. They all set off together – the Koreans dragged along under protest – down the Chennai-Pondicherry highway in search of peace, freedom and a family pack of fairness cream.

MAN: Was this inspired by true events? Our legal team will want to know if it isn’t. Most fiction is invariably plagiarized.

CHAP: Yes. It’s autobiographical. From the time I sacrificed one of my toes to the ghost of Raj Kapoor so I could pass my minor in Tragic Narcissism.

MAN: And you want to call this movie “Alice in Thunderland”? Sounds positively hideous.

CHAP [shocked]: How did you…! Have you been hacking into my computer?

MAN: Is the government run by lassi-drinkers?

CHAP: Huh?

MAN: Do your savings consist of Monopoly money?

CHAP: What?

MAN: Am I a cynical, sarcastic corporate flunky with a tendency to vampirism and a libido to match?

CHAP: Okay, look, I’m sorry, but I’ve no clue what you’re trying to get at.

MAN: I feel the same way about you, darling. But if you must know, I subscribe to your blog. It tells me things that no man should know.

CHAP: Privacy is a subjective notion.

MAN: So is marmalade. Are we done yet?

CHAP: Well, almost. What do you think so far?

MAN: The studio bosses will never buy it.

CHAP: Why not?

MAN: To be brutally honest, there needs to be more reference to gobi Manchurian in your story. Also a peanut candy or two, if practicable. That’s the stuff that gets the box office grooving.

CHAP: Really?

MAN: Sure.

CHAP: Who’d have thought it!

MAN: My aunt Leela. She’s never watched a movie, but she’s a whiz at picking lice… Oh and look, I don’t want to intrude, but who’s the lady?

CHAP: What lady?

MAN: The creepy voyeur lady. Truth told, I’m even starting to get mildly turned on.

Chap: What? Who? Where?

MAN [pointing off stage]: The one who’s been staring at you through the window all this while.

[The CHAP looks to where the MAN indicates and jumps to his feet. On cue, a WOMAN enters clutching a thick folder under her arm and marches towards the MAN and the CHAP’s table. The WOMAN is tall, beefy, wears a long gown, high heels, appallingly bad make-up, and, as is most of all apparent from her heavy stubble, is really a man dressed in very poor drag. The MAN busies himself, packing away his laptop, stationery and various pieces of cutlery on the table that he takes a fancy to, digging his nose, generally being lecherous, etc., occasionally looking up to react to odd parts of the ensuing conversation between the other two characters.]


CHAP: Oh ah.

WOMAN: Guess why I’m here.

CHAP: The baby swallowed the car keys again?

WOMAN [handing the CHAP a file full of official-looking documents]: I need you to sign these.

CHAP [wounded]: Divorce papers!

WOMAN: Don’t be silly, we aren’t even married.

CHAP: Oh ah. [He indicates the documents.] So what’re these for?

WOMAN: Application for a ration card. I ate the old one for an afternoon snack. I was going to wash it down with a glass of cold milk when I realized we didn’t have any. No milk and no ration card, what a terrible drag.

CHAP [looking the WOMAN up and down critically]: Yes, that really is the most terrible drag.

WOMAN [pretending not to have heard CHAP]: And then when I went across the border to raid the Burmese dairy, I suddenly remembered that I had, in fact, eaten my passport and not the ration card. The floor of the prison cell was so cold and hard, and all the other illegal immigrants ganged up and tried to forcibly cut my toenails. It was a really tough siesta, you know, full of half-digested regurgitations and dreams of being attacked by wild gangs of accountants with cobwebby ears waving ball-pens in the air. And it’s all your fault. Things would’ve been so much better if you weren’t so goddamn ugly.

CHAP: You’re faffing, aren’t you?

WOMAN: I could be.

CHAP: Are you having an affair?

WOMAN: It’s been three decades now. You’re so blind.

CHAP [Distraught, grabs a chair for support]: Is it Mani the pawnbroker?

WOMAN: You’re warm.

CHAP: Not Suprabadham, the wet nurse!

WOMAN: I wish. Give up?

CHAP: What do I stand to lose?

WOMAN: Everything. It’s…


WOMAN: Yes. Your sister.

CHAP: But I don’t have a sister.

WOMAN: That’s what you think.

CHAP: You’re joking, aren’t you?

WOMAN [Suddenly going all stiff, starts talking in Arnold Schwarzenegger accent]: I have not been programmed with a sense of humour.[Dramatic sound effect follows this revelation – preferably a thunderclap or the first four notes from Beethoven’s 5th or something equally earth-shattering. CHAP reacts very slowly and theatrically with widening eyes, slackening jaw and hand rising to cover open mouth.]WOMAN [continuing with Arnie accent]: Affirmative, I am a cybernetic organism.

CHAP: Jesus!

WOMAN: Not Jesus, you idiot, I just said I am a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over metal endoskeleton. The coming apocalypse can only be averted if I manage to stop an evil melty robot with my insatiable appetite for destruction and dreadfully inappropriate sense of humour.

CHAP [Shocked and awed]: Really? That’s like in, er, the Small Wonder.

WOMAN: The Terminator, you fucking idiot.

CHAP: Oh yes, of course, of course… [Stops to think for a moment] Wow, my wife’s a terminator?!

WOMAN [lapsing into her own accent]: Don’t be silly, we aren’t even married.

CHAP: Oh ah.

WOMAN: You’re an idiot.

CHAP: Now look here, if you keep calling me an idiot, I’m…

WOMAN: You’re going to what, you idiotic little idiot?

CHAP: I’ll… I’ll… I’ll forward you lots of spam! You big bully!

WOMAN: Ooh, I’m so frightened of scary mister idiot spammer that I just shat my pants.

CHAP: Stop mocking me!

WOMAN: No, honest. I really did shit my pants. Which is why [Talking like Arnie again] I need your clothes, your boots und your motorcycle.

CHAP: But I don’t even have a motorcycle.

WOMAN: Oh ah. My CPU is a neural net processor, a learning computer. The more contact I have with humans, the more I learn…

CHAP [aside]: And when I caught her kissing the refrigerator last week, I thought she was just being progressive! What a fool I’ve been!

WOMAN: A fool, yes, and an idiot too.

CHAP: Heyyy!

[WOMAN turns to leave.]

CHAP: HEY! Where are you going?

WOMAN [Puts on black sunglasses and turns around]: I’ll be back.

CHAP: Hell, I hope not.

[Exit Woman]

MAN: Well, that was fun, but I’ll be off now. People to go, meetings to place.

CHAP: Hey, so will you option my screenplay?

MAN: I can’t, honey, I have a headache.

CHAP: Don’t be silly, we aren’t even married.

MAN: Oh ah.

CHAP: Oh ah.

MAN: Right. I really must be going now.

CHAP: But why? WHY? I DEMAND an answer!

MAN [sotto voce]: I lied to you. I’m not a movie producer at all. I’m your sister.

CHAP: But I don’t have a sister.

MAN: That’s what you think.

CHAP: You’re joking, aren’t you?

MAN: Yes, as a matter of fact, I am joking. You see, I’m not even your sister. I’m really a construction-worker-cum-stand-up-comedian. [Dramatic thunderclappy sound effect repeats here. The MAN jumps up and leaps to the centre of the stage. A stagehand throws him a big yellow hard-hat which he catches with a flourish and wears at a jaunty angle. CHAP gets off stage, finds a seat in the audience, makes himself comfortable and starts to clap and cheer. His job from now on is to lead all the big laughs and get the applause going. All lights dim, leaving a single spotlight shining on the MAN. The stagehand throws the MAN a microphone. He catches it, does a quick sound check, and starts up a deadpan comedy routine, nice and slow and easy.]

MAN: So! I’m what they call an IPL comedian. The only way you can make me go out in front of a large crowd and act like an idiot is if you pay me in the millions. Thankfully you people are about as dense as the last election’s voter turnout.

The biggest audience I’ve had prior to this was my mirror reflection. And, uh, my mirror reflection’s in rehab.

I swear it’s true. Any more skank and it’d be like Amy Wino. I was rehearsing in my room one day, you see, and, er, my reflection couldn’t wrap its head around any of my jokes. And it tried to deal with its disappointment the chemical way. With a couple of tabs of, you know. Then it went crazy and tried to strangle the colour purple. The entire spectrum had to get in there and sit on it.

It was in such hysterics, it wrestled out of everyone’s grip and tried to put the smack-down on pink and mauve as well. The doctors are treating it with anti-depressants now.

My mirror reflection’s on anti-depressants. Imagine how that makes me feel.

I haven’t seen my reflection in three days. Even as we speak, it’s prolly sitting in some shrink’s waiting room, flipping through a Bangalore Times and contemplating suicide. Yeah, that’s what prolonged exposure to BT will do to you, drive you all pill-crazy.

And really, what’s with this Page 3 crap, anyway? Why do I need to waste my hard-earned money every morning for a forcible peek into some drunk stranger’s photo album? If you ask me, Page 3 is secretly an episodic full-page ad for UB. It stands to reason. The only thing I recognize in the pictures is the beer. I always know a glass of KF when I see one.

The people, on the other hand, could be mannequins for all I care. “Jojo with Lula” and “Bimbo admiring Dumbo’s handbag” and all the rest of it. Don’t these people ever have last names? All those glazed eyes and manic smiles – you’d think they were at an RSS rally.

I can’t stand Page 3. Really, the same stuff can be seen on Facebook for free. I mean, I even get wanton nudity online. For free! But get this. When those fat-ass businessmen and gallery owners and fashion designers in the BT Page 3 start posing nude – hell, that’s when you’ll know Judgment Day’s arrived. Even God has a limited sense of irony.

But we were talking about my reflection, weren’t we? Since the OD, it might be in therapy, it might be a mere shadow of my former self, but what about me? I’m fucked. I mean, I’ve been under daily threat from horror movie aficionados. I’m constantly chased down by autograph-hunting Dracula fans in public rest rooms. My nerves are shot. I can’t wash my face without being attacked with wooden stakes and bags full of garlic.

Yesterday I was at the post office delivering a lecture on Linguistics, Sexism and the Mailman. After mine there was going to be a discourse on Ciphers and Drug Abuse by a nun with a dirty habit.

In the middle of my talk, the nun, who was admiring herself in the window pane, suddenly jumped up in fright and ran out the room. She’d evidently noticed my reflection, or lack thereof. She was back in ten minutes with a gang of sweaty padres and a giant vat of holy water. Needless to say, the whole event was a washout.

So like I said, I’m what they call an IPL comedian. Mostly coz I shit bricks in front of big crowds. The only good that can come out of something like this is, er, that some of my friends in the back over there promised to gift me a lifetime’s supply of MIT’s Linctus if I managed to last more than 6 minutes out here without turning into Woody Allen.

MIT’s Linctus is a cough syrup that contains a lot of codeine. It’s banned for general use in developed countries such as the US because codeine fucks up your sense of logic – which makes sense, because codeine would be completely redundant in the US.

You can buy it at any Indian pharmacy, though. We’re more democratic that way. Madness in our country isn’t a privilege limited to heads of state. And you should see the state of our heads.So yeah, codeine’s an over-the-counter drug here. It’s what you’d take if you were both a masochist and a neurotic.

You see, on the one hand it’s an opiate, which means that that sensation of walking on clouds you get after a swig of codeine is really just particulate pollution from a passing BMTC bus.

And then codeine is also antidiarrhial, which means that already tight-assed people who take it will prolly have to spend the rest of the week wondering where their own bums have disappeared to.

To sum up, then, codeine causes smoky vision and tough shit. That’s right. Codeine’s just like riding a bike down M. G. Road.

I think I should stop and make a confession right about now. I, uh, actually signed on for this show thinking it was the regional support group for anuptophobics.

In case you don’t know, anuptophobia’s the fear of staying single. There’s only one truly effective way of keeping it under control – yup – Adult Friend Finder dot com. You heard it here first.

Anuptophobia’s quite the affliction. It’s even worse when you’re a bit neurotic like me. I’m both nervous and a compulsive womanizer. You should see the state of the nurses at NIMHANS. It’s terrible.

Oh good, it’s been more than 6 minutes. If you want some real entertainment, just hang around and wait till I get some of that MIT’s Linctus in me. Then you’ll get to see a constipated neurotic with blurred vision making lunges at every passing female. Yeah, I can safely turn into Woody Allen now. No, but seriously. It’s been a recurring problem ever since he bit me on the leg last December when I heckled him at a red carpet event. On full moon nights I lose hair, grow a pair of spectacles and get all ironic. I only pretend it’s the MIT’s Linctus that’s doing it…

[The MAN’s giggling at his own jokes by now, even if no one else is. WOMAN suddenly steps out from backstage with a big gun in hand and fires two shots into the MAN’s chest. He falls down in slow motion and dies an extremely theatrical death.]

WOMAN [In Arnie/Terminator voice]: If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s bad comedy.

CHAP [Rising in protest]: I say! What did you go and do that for? The act wasn’t half bad!

WOMAN: Maybe for you. I have not been programmed with a sense of humour. [Fires another two shots into the CHAP’s chest. CHAP also falls down and dies] Hasta la vista, baby!

[Exit WOMAN, high-kicking to Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind'. Lights out.]


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