It is not easy for any author to create a scene from the Mumbai slums, without reminding us of Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. In Behind the Beautiful Forever, pulitzer winning Katherine Boo has portrayed the lives of Mumbai slum dwellers, alongside the city's international airport- focussing on the nuances of their everyday life, without the hollywood romanticism.
Directed by Rufus Norris, the play revolves around 16 years old Abdul Hussain played by Shane Zaza- the best trash sorter in the area. Honesty, simplicity and righteousness are the highlights of his character. His mother Zehrunisa played by Meera Syal- a pompous woman on an ego trip because of their increasing wealth, Asha a local broker with a big political ambition played by Stephanie Street, Asha's 18 years old wise and educated daughter Manju played by Anjana Vasan, and of course the one legged Fatima played by Thusitha Jayasundera, who is the catalyst to the fall of the Hussains.
Someone who has not read Boo's novel, the story line seemed complex, yet solemnly real. While acting of the whole cast is extremely commendable, performance specially by three women- Meera, Stephanie and Thusitha, are outstanding.
The story is of corruptions, sacrifices, ambitions beyond one's means- an extraordinary journey that depicts the harsh realities of intertwining lives, amongst all hopes and despairs, achievements and failures, resilience and fragility. It depicts the lives of young scavengers who survive by picking through and sorting trash from the airport and nearby hotels. Some try to steal to make quick money, some get caught and lose lives to the violent and brutal security forces.
The play also portrays the pride and arrogance of a Muslim mother- showing off the little 'extra' that they were able to earn, in a country where they lived as minority, the growing envy of the neighbours, the dishonesty and the catastrophe that follows.
It ends with sincerity and the dreams of the Hussains amongst all paradoxes, as they build their empire little by little again and a peek to the promises that the future holds for a determined and spirited Abdul.
Behind the Beautiful Forever, National Theatre, Feb- May 2015