Matters of Faith:
Miracle On Matunga Street, directed by KK Raina, is Ila Arun’s second adaptation of a Tom Dudzick play after Namaste (based on Greetings). Both bring up in some way the issue of faith, diversity and tolerance. Miracle On South Division Street must have been tougher to adapt, so rooted it is in New York’s working class milieu. However, Ila Arun has taken advantage of the Indian gullibility in matters of religion. In busy and largely cynical Mumbai, people have an unshakable belief in the wish-fulfilling power of some deities and it doesn’t matter if that particular God belongs to another religion. The city had gone into a frenzy (and this was much before social media connectivity) when statues of Lord Ganesha were reported to be drinking milk, just like Italians had flocked to church when an idol of Mother Mary was said to be crying tears of blood. Mumbai is also a city where little shrines sprout up everywhere, and devotees land up with offerings and hope.
In a rapidly gentrifying Matunga Tulsa Harry Peter (Ila Arun), holds on to the little domestic shrine, where, as legend goes, in 1947, Velankanni Amma (a form of Mother Mary) had appeared in her father’s barber shop. The faithful still visit the place to take the soup that Tulsa makes, supposedly with magical healing powers, and leave money to have their prayers heard. This has become a source of income for the family.
The sleepy and traditional Catholic corner of the city is changing, and so are social mores, as Tulsa (who goes about wearing giant ear muffs to cut out the noise), a devout “pure Catholic” tries to hold on to her old way of life. Her good-for-nothing son Jimmy (Ruturaj Shinde), who is secretly dating a Muslim girl; one daughter Nisha (Rajshree Ponappa), an aspiring actress, the other, Anisha (Prackriti Bhaargava) a self-styled social media expert, are to meet to discuss a matter of great importance.
Nisha, the only one who was at her dying grandmother’s side turned out to be the recipient of a long-held secret and wants to use that in a one-woman performance. The revelation of this secret for the amusement of an audience, would embarrass the Peters family and destroy their already shaky foundation.
In her adaptation, Ila Arun has managed to introduce a major historical event, and neatly tied it up to the deathbed confession, that results in Tulsa’s belief in her family’s past, and her very identity being severely dented. The children have always been skeptical, but encouraged the myth for the money it brings in.
As the eccentric matriarch, Ila Arun also dominates the cast, as the character saves herself from falling apart by the simple act of acceptance, which, by itself, in today’s times is a miracle. This may not have been Dudzick’s original intention, but that comes through between the lines. An early performance of the play was much too long and a bit muddled, but with judicious editing and some rewriting, the humour of the story can be enhanced. The play is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, but there’s enough warmth and wit in there to raise a few smiles.
(This piece first appeared in mumbaitheatreguide.com)