My Heart Goes Thadak Thadakis an ode to 1970’s Bollywood cinema and the big dreams of a production company on the verge of collapse. Written and directed by one of New Zealand’s most influential artists, Ahi Karunaharan, ‘Thadak Thadak’ is a production that doesn’t just deserve to be seen – it needs to be seen.
Set among the paraphernalia of a studio film set, the stage is replete with divas, huge back-drops, a wannabe actor, an over-compensating producer, sibling rivalry, and of course some innocent New Zealanders who are unable to articulate their feelings so express themselves through music – and conveniently, provide the soundscape for the show.
Iconic director, Rakesh Ramsey has died of cardiac arrest but his presence continues to be felt (mostly by a temperamental smoke machine) as his team attempt to realise his unfilled dream: a desi western called Dust of the Delhi Plains.
Led by the overbearing and pedantic producer Manjit (Mustaq Missouri) the first act is heavily expositional. We are introduced, somewhat tediously, to the young Shankar (Shaan Kesha) craving a bit role; the determined but aging queen, Ranikumari (Rashmi Pilapitiya); and eventually, the children of the deceased director, Roshan (Mayen Mehta) and Kamala (Sanaya Doctor) who are now forced to reckon with the reality of finishing the film on a shoe-string budget and a world that is crying out for change.
Pilapitiya in particular stands out for questioning the roles for women and the fickle nature of the film industry while Doctor and Mehta, show by turns genuine frustration and affection as brother and sister. Young Kesha is the ideal kowtowing actor who’ll do anything to get a moment of fame and Missouri has a special moment during the discussion of cultural appropriation when he unequivocally denounces such behaviour.
It’s a moment, like many other peppered throughout the show, that remind the audiences that while it may be set in 1975, the conversations had definitely begun – and to do this day continue. Julia as Harriet Tubman, anyone?
Jennifer Lal’s lighting is beautiful, Leon Radojkovic and Daniel Williams’ design is detailed and quietly magnificent and Padma Akula’s costumes genuinely reflect the era. The music, while brilliant, does tend to overwhelm the story at times and the script does need more dramaturgical support, especially in the first act when the storyline is ambiguous. However, in the second act, as stakes rise and the team realise they need to make this film and stop horsing around the story does finally land with a resounding finale.
Thadak Thadak brims with potential to be deeply satirical, a nostalgic homage or a black comedy – but at the moment its form is blurred and the intentions lacking in clarity. Nevertheless, the show is vital because it challenges the current diet of existing theatrical fare, and importantly, has the seeds for dismantling some of the dysfunctional infrastructure in the sector that has seeped through the decades.Go see it.