Venue: Summerhall – Online
At times Rajesh and Naresh, a small-budget, big-hearted stage play, threatens to sparkle. However, the 65-minute show is clearly constrained by the screen it appears on; the emotional resonance is somewhat deadened by the fact it’s an online-only show, an inescapable hurdle the producers have only partially navigated. With that said, the human element of the play is truly well crafted, and the heartfelt ending genuinely leaves you feeling happy and satisfied at how it all pans out – a sure sign of great character work.
There’s a real sweetness about our protagonists in this queer Asian love story. Rajesh (Brahmdeo Shannon Ramana) is a London finance hotshot – or trying to be. He is still in the closet to his mother (Madhav Vasantha), who is desperate to see him marry and suggests he heads to India to relax and hang out with his cousins – and maybe find a wife. Tired of being underappreciated at work (it’s heavily implied this is because of his race, a situation many people of colour will recognise) he takes the trip to Mumbai, where he runs into cricket-bat maker Naresh (also played by Vasantha). Naresh is out and proud in the bustling city. He has a circle of close friends, of whom we meet Billy (Ramana again), but our Indian protagonist’s shyness has made looking for love near impossible.
Vasantha is brilliant throughout. His comic timing is impeccable, and he renders the more austere scenes well, adding gravitas and heft to what isn’t exactly an innovative script. Ramana also does a good job, but at points is overshadowed by his co-star. With that said, he shows great range, especially in his turn as Billy, whom he portrays perfectly. The writing can feel a little instructive, but as many creators from marginalised communities will know, majority audiences sometimes need to be bonked on the head with a message before they get it.
Importantly, the characters portrayed all feel multidimensional. While the humour and ideas may occasionally lapse into stereotype, the people we meet in Rajesh and Naresh manage to confound most expectations. It also reminds us as an audience that gay rights, while enshrined into law in many Western nations, don’t necessarily mean the freedom for one to be themselves; Rajesh is far more closeted than Naresh, despite living in the more ‘forward-thinking’ of the two countries depicted in the show.
Overall, Rajesh and Naresh is a wonderful little play that would undoubtedly go up a notch if performed live. However, the online format has been chosen, and it needs to be reviewed as such. This is a shame because it’s the biggest issue with the production. The sound was a little quiet at points, but the direction was well done (close-ups were used to good effect during more emotional scenes). However, without the energy of a live performance, it felt a bit hollow at times. If you get the chance to see this show in person, do. If your only option is online, then it’s still worth an hour of your time, but you might find yourself wishing for a little more than you’ll get.
Dates: Rajesh and Naresh is available online until 29th August via Summerhall Online.
Image: Demi Leigh