Based on a non-fiction book by Katherine Hoo, Behind The Beautiful Forevers is a play about the Annawadi slums of Mumbai, India. Situated in the outskirts of busy Mumbai airport, it shows the lives of impoverished Indians living in the slums revealing the truth about their lives. The character’s livelihoods depend on rubbish recycling, from collecting to sorting and then reselling.
The play depicts how the police and government officials take bribes, and lie to reach targets and disguise statistics. When one young man is beaten to death by guards for stealing scrap metal, the police constable tells his junior officer after looking the body, ‘Yes tuberculosis, he’s died of tuberculosis’.
It may sound grim but there are comical dialogues throughout. The bad language makes this play officially for over 14’s, but it definitely adds to the entertainment.
I’m aware of the levels of corruption that are prevalent in countries such as India but this play was a real eye opener. I was in shock over how much corruption there actually is, from the police who is notoriously corrupt to Government officials to the judicial system. However the play shows a glimmer a hope in the form of one of the judges and one of the main characters — Abdul who wants to live an honest clean life free from crime and lies, but battles with his neighbourhood because of this.
David Hare along with director Rufus Norris, has touched upon many subjects — poverty, corruption, unemployment, oppression of women, treatment of Muslims, education, suicides and prostitution. The main story revolves around the politics of envy where one family in the neighbourhood are doing slightly better than others because their son is the best rubbish sorter in the business, and are therefore despised by some. This then leads to a plot to ruin them which leads to a court case.
Vincent Ebrahim is much better in his role than in Dara, it definitely suits him more. Meera Syal brilliantly plays his sharp tongued wife Zehrunisa who provides some wit to the production and reminded me of one of her Goodness Gracious Me characters.
I loved the music, which was a mix of mainstream Bollywood and also included an Imran Khan bhangra track. The best theatrical effect was that of an overhead aeroplane, setting the scene perfectly. This is not a glamorous show — the set shows the dirty littered slums of Annawadi, but I felt I was right there living it. The feature of a rickshaw and motorcycle really set the scene, and made for a believable set.
With globalisation and modernity, India boasts economic growth, and projects itself as a hub of colour, glitz and glamour. But the truth is that millions live in conditions that are almost unbelievable for us living in the West. It is a long production where the director has packed a lot into it — perhaps too much? Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a gritty and moving production from the National Theatre and a must-see if you want to see the darker side of India.
Essential Info: National Theatre Live will be broadcasting Behind The Beautiful Forevers on 12th March in various cinemas. Suitable for ages 14 and above. It is running until 5th May 2015 at The National Theatre. Running time : 2 hours and 50 minutes long including a 20 minute interval.
Tickets: £15 – £35 per person.
Address: National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX, Nearest station: Waterloo, Embankment