Death in San Francisco – (NAATAK co.) Play Review

Once again NAATAK company of Indian theater enthusiasts, enthralled the audience with the amazing performance of the play, “Death in San Francisco”, written and directed by Sujit Saraf and produced by Asheesh Divetia.

The play opens with the scene where Naveen Chandra Gupta, resident of San Francisco, has died, leaving behind an unusual request for last rites. His wife is committed to fulfilling his last wish, despite all the challenges, and she gets possession of the body, from the hospital. Despite the disagreements with the odd request of Gupta, and some internal conflicts, her friends oblige and commit themselves to helping her. Her mother-in-law who lived with them, also wishes to see her son’s last wish fulfilled. Gupta’s young son, despite having grown up in the US, does not question the rationality of his father’s last wish.

The family seeks the permission from the city and that is being delayed. Also, it is a memorial day weekend and many places are closed. Additionally, the air conditioner breaks down and due to oppressive heat, the body begins to decompose and smell. Some of the friends really begin to question the logic behind such a decision. Also the dead man Gupta’s brother arrives from India and he questions this decision as well. They question the dead man’s love for his own country. If he in fact loved his own country so much then why did he not return back to India; why did he always complain of dirt, noise, corruption, and pollution in India; why did he not go often to the temple, etc. Gupta and his brother were estranged and had not spoken with each other for 20 years and Gupta had not visited India often. The brother scoffs at the ignorance of his brother’s outdated request, saying that things have changed even in India.

On the other hand, Gupta’s wife is increasingly certain about her intention to fulfill his request.  She also asserts that having lived in this country, it is their right to choose to do death rites according to their faith. She also tells their lawyer that Gupta’s decision about living in the US, changed the course of her own life. Even though Gupta himself did not achieve huge success that he had dreamed of, she got certain freedom and independence in this country, that she never could have enjoyed in India.  She felt therefore obliged to fulfill her husband’s last wishes. On the other hand, the friends also question her devotion to her husband because she does not break down and is not hysteric over the death of her husband. But they all pledge their help. They run around to get the permission, people, and materials to fulfill this odd last request. Almost towards the end, before the body is taken, the wife learns some new details about her husband’s life.

Sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious, this quirky comedy is Sujit Saraf’s 9th play. It raises many questions. What does love for one’s country of origin mean? How does one show the love for one’s own country? Is it by sending donations, teaching Bharatnatyam (Indian classical dance) to the kids (like one of Gupta’s friend asserts), is it by choosing rites and rituals at different stages of life and death, is it by returning back to the homeland? How does one show the love for one’s adopted homeland? What can one expect in one’s adopted homeland? How do people preserve their identity?

As is typical of NAATAK plays, the set was well done, with complete attention to detail.  Additionally, the director has indeed gone to great lengths to obtain some unusual props. The cast, including Ranjita Chakravarthy, Aruna Sheth, Phill Wiseman, Arnav Gautam and others, gave a brilliant performance.  This is a not to miss play with very few remaining seats for only some of the performances. The play is being performed at the Theater on San Pedro Square, in San Jose, CA.

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  1. #1 by Sharvari Dixit on June 16, 2012 - 10:38 am

    Thank you for this beautiful review (although some of the details are given away (;-)). One of the Naatak members alerted me to your review, and I’ve enjoyed reading it. You sound like a loyal patron and that is what Naatak is all about. For myself its been a privilege to be a part of Naatak since it began. In this play, Sujit has made a casting coup for a brilliant script and an awesome production.
    Sharvari Dixit

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