At the intermission of Love Times Seven, the new Bollywood inspired play from Arpita Mukherjee, my mother turned to me and asked, “Is it supposed to be funny when people die in Bollywood movies?” She had been confused by the loud guffaws coming from the couple sitting behind us since to the uninformed viewer there really isn’t anything funny about a 1970s era shoot-out between policeman Ravi and gangster Vijay, brothers on opposite sides of the law. And yet I giggled too, as the body count ratcheted up in this delightfully over-the-top tribute to classic Bollywood fare. Death can sometimes be funny, sometimes cathartic, and sometimes, it’s just the way things have to play out in Bollywood.
The story of Love Times Seven begins in the dusty black and white 1940s with a couple of star-crossed lovers (Arpita Mukherjee and the play’s co-writer Sharath Parvathavani). The pair are crossed in love again and again every decade, in period appropriate ways, until we reach the present where they are united in the grand finale. The earlier decades are marked by an earnest tone, appropriate to the socially aware tone of the films, but by the time it gets to the go-go 1980s, both the cast and audience are having a blast and enjoying the campiness of it all, cheering as “Jimmy” shakes his booty to “Disco Dancer.”
Arpita and Sharath clearly know their filmi history and the script skillfully glides along the major themes of each decade, with perhaps the exception of the 1960s and the 2000s. The 1960s piece felt too tied to the iconic but hardly prototypical Padosan while the 2000s seemed distracted – but then trying to rope a single theme out of the decade that opened with epic period piece Lagaan and ended with the modern college fable of 3 Idiots might be too much to ask of anyone. The real fun of the Love Times Seven homage to Bollywood is in the details: the overwrought “Hai Bhagwan” from the 1940s, the booze-swilling capitalist fat cats of the 1950s complaining about the poor, the Laxmi Chhaiya shimmy in the 1960s, an ominous bracelet in the 1970s, the fantastic 1980s hip thrusts, and, of course, the endless wedding songs from the 1990s.
Just like in a Bollywood film, the hero and heroine took center stage for much of the show but we were also treated to a variety of scene stealing villains, vixens, comedians, and parental figures. Among the audience favorites were the spot-on 1970s era mob boss named Teja-saab (Sagar Kiran Patel), who delighted this reviewer with his navel plunging red smoking jacket and villainous smirk, the 1980s policewallah (Amish Singh), whose dialogue delivery got more laughs than almost anything else that night, and the jealous ‘other woman’ Naina (Sheena Luke) from the 1990s segment. There was even a Helen-inspired item number, featuring the voluptuous assistant director Priyanka Basa (Chandani Chandekar).
Among the other treats in Love Times Seven were the delicious costumes and choreography, all period specific. From the glittering black and white sari Arpita wears in the 1950s piece to the silver lam