Boom Shankar is billed as “an explosive comedy about life, love, and bomb defusal.” But our bomb is just a plot device (ahem) to get the jokes going — and too many of them fail to go off.
Director of the play by Agaram Productions, Ahi Karunaharan, wants Agaram to give a platform to South Asian voices. With Boom Shankar he wants to overturn, he says, “the trope of a bearded brown man planting bombs.” It takes more to overturn such a stereotype however than giving us a bearded brown man bumblingly defusing them.
But this is really less about overturning tropes or exploring deep issues than it is a simple a “buddy movie” played out on a stage, and played mainly for easy laughs. By means of some quick (and sometimes confusing) costume changes our two “buddies,” Aman Bajaj and Bala Murali Shingade, play several characters each, all with energy and enthusiasm, and with the timing a good comic needs. And the audience warms to them.
But with the quick character changes and the South Asian voices, the production is going to draw unavoidable comparisons with Jacob Rajan’s splendid Indian Ink incarnations, such as the recently-revived Krishnan’s Dairy, at which anything similar will need to be very good not to come off second best.
Sure there are plenty of laughs. Familiar references to cricket and family conflicts saw heads nod; invited audience participation won inevitable chuckles; and topical references to Bollywood movies drew shrieks from parts of the audience who understood them. But too many inside jokes become tedious if you don’t.
The production is one of Q Theatre’s Matchbox programme bringing smaller, independent productions blinking into the brighter lights of a major theatre. Earlier versions of the show sold out at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival in 2021 and downstairs at the Basement Theatre— and it has been workshopped further for its Queen St debut. But one feels that too many scenes are there to pad out an idea with too few legs.
Go for some laughs, and to support independent theatre.
Boom Shankar plays 6 – 16 September at the Q Theatre Loft.
Tickets available from the Q Theatre website.