Sangam Playhouse






Mister Happy Maker

A Play by



An extract of the first 14 pages of the play.Please contact the author (aditya.sudarshan@gmail.com) for rights to perform, publish or use this text in any form.




Act 1

 

 

A room in sickly half-light, with thick curtains shutting out the bright day beyond. A young man half-sits, half-lies on the floor, propped up by the bed. The room is in disorder, books, papers, CDs and clothes are scattered all about it. The boy’s head lolls to a side- his face is shiny with sweat and sickness.

 

Slowly, noises rise around him- all the possible chaos of an Indian city street. Horns, engines, hawkers, abuses, a wedding band, a festival procession- all rising from a murmur to a pitch, then transforming suddenly to the sounds of a riot

gun-fire, screams, fire, a stampede.

 

The cacophony lasts long enough to become truly oppressive- then it recedes and we hear voices close at hand.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Bloody hell, where is he? There’s work to be done!

 

Mrs Happy Maker (tremulous)

He’s upstairs- go easy please- you know he’s not been well.

 

Mister Happy Maker (approaching up the stairs)

But what about the customers!- what’ll they think?- how can we run our business when your son is always sleeping!- dreaming! What’ll they say? It’s about time he took some interest-

 

He bursts into the room.

 

Mister Happy Maker

- in what’s happening around him!- Get up man! That’s enough- snap out of it!

 

The young man, Alok, does not react.

 

Mister Happy Maker

I am working. Your mother is working. Rashmi and Kartik are downstairs, working. You will go down right now and help us all!

 

Alok stays silent.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Do you hear me!?

 

Alok looks away.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Oh hell- I don’t have the time for this! Full-grown adult acting like a child! Do you know what I was doing when I was your age, Alok? I was teaching you- to think and speak and behave- and hey Ram, I’m doing the same today!

 

Alok (softly)

I don’t feel well.

 

Mister Happy Maker

How would you, when you sit here all day in the dark with your nightmares- and your…(his eyes scan the mess on the bed)… junk!… Such junk!… Accha bring these things down- we’ll add it to the display. Some of these CDs might hook the adolescents.

 

Alok (shaking his head)

Papa, my stuff is not for sale.

Mister Happy Maker

Not for sale… What do you mean not for sale?

 

There is a pause filled with incomprehension.

 

Mister Happy Maker (sifting through the mess)

It isn’t even the latest stuff… I’ve told you before, like everything else, books and movies must be kept up to date…or else they’re useless… like stale meat… What are these things- the Bible- you’re reading the Bible??

 

Alok (tired)

Papa…

 

Mister Happy Maker (straightening)

Listen you get dressed and come down right away, there are customers arriving all the time, Alok! We need all hands on deck, my son! Ahoy there matey! Hahaha! (he hurries back downstairs, calling as he goes) And cheer up! I always say, best way to stay satisfied is to keep the customers satisfied!

 

The lights dim on the solitary boy and the cacophony resumes for a strident, jangling burst.

 

 

Then bright lights return, as we see Mister Happy Maker arriving with a jaunty leap into an expensive living room. The decor suggests cultivated conversation and cups of tea, but the atmosphere is all business.

 

Mrs Happy Maker is scribbling on a chart spread out over a coffee table. A young girl, Rashmi, and her boyfriend Kartik are each standing at a window, staring out intently.

 

Mister Happy Maker

How’s it going, how’s it going?

 

Mrs Happy Maker

I’m updating our inventory.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Good- and the customers? Are they noticing the sign?

 

Rashmi

Some of them are.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Do you think the letters are big enough?

 

Kartik

Oh they’re big.

 

Mister Happy Maker

But are they bright enough? Because bright colours catch the eye!

 

Mrs Happy Maker (busy writing)

Don’t worry dear…

 

Mister Happy Maker

I like our name! It’s a great name no?

 

He doesn’t wait for a reply.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Mister Happy Maker! We make you happy… Simple and direct. And yet- and yet imbued with a sense of mystery… It’s everything a tag-line should be. Who could resist it??

 

Kartik

Well somebody just did. Stood outside staring at the sign for two and a half minutes, then turned and cut.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Describe him!

Kartik

Old, sixty at least. Wearing a cheap bush shirt and cheap grey trousers- looked cheap all over. Carrying one of those cheap plastic bags- you know the kind- ancient- glazed thick with dirt- probably stuffs it with all his wordly belongings.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Maybe he can’t read.

 

Kartik

Especially English- I’m sure he can’t read English. Plus he had some sort of tika- on his forehead- some smeared vermillion.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Overt religiosity, I see. Then it definitely can’t be helped. We have to pick our battles. The old don’t matter, they’ll die soon. The religious are goddamn impossible! The poor… we can try… the uneducated… we can try… we have the goods to reel them in…. but… (he sighs) that won’t be easy either.

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Don’t worry, dear. One does the best one can!

 

She gives him a reassuring smile, which he accepts with gravity. The doorbell rings.

 

Rashmi answers it. A plainly dressed man with a satchel bag is standing outside.

 

Rashmi

Yes?

 

Linesman

Telephone theek karne aaya hoon.

 

Happy Maker

Who is it?

 

Linesman

Telephone.

 

Rashmi

He says he’s come to fix the telephone. Had you complained?

 

Happy Maker

Wait! Wait wait wait wait wait!

 

Happy Maker strides to the door, intercepting the man before he can enter.

 

Happy Maker

So you’ve come to the fix the telephone?

 

Linesman

22157678- aapka yehi number hai na?

 

Happy Maker

Tell me something… Do I look to you like an idiot?

 

Linesman

Aapka… phone kharaab hai na?

 

Happy Maker

Do you think you can just say, you’re going to help and I’ll believe you?

 

The man says nothing.

 

Happy Maker

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice

 

He is now trembling with anger.

 

Happy Maker

I tell you, I have felt the treachery of the Government. I am not going to feel it again. I am not going to rely on you in any way, for any thing.

Linesman

Sir- aap please bata do, phone ki complaint hai ki nahi hai?

 

Happy Maker

Why do you ask? Are you concerned? Are you concerned about me?

 

Linesman

Concerned?

 

Happy Maker

You don’t understand, do you… I’m not surprised. Because you don’t care and you never have, and that’s why I have to do everything myself. Happy Making should be your job, but you don’t do it… so don’t go coming here, ringing my bell and raising my hopes- ever again. Goodbye!

 

He slams the door shut and walks slowly back to the middle of the room.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

Dear, are you ok?

 

Happy Maker

Who made that complaint?

 

Kartik

The phone hasn’t worked for a month.

 

Happy Maker

Did you complain?

 

Kartik

Nope.

 

Rashmi

Me neither.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

We don’t need the land-line anyway.

 

Happy Maker

Then it must have been Alok…

 

Mrs. Happy Maker (quickly)

I’ll speak to him about it.

 

Happy Maker (gravely, portentously)

We cannot have Alok making mistakes like this. He will jeopardize our entire business.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

I know, you’re right, I’ll speak to him. (The bell rings again) Oh God, who is it now?

 

Rashmi opens the door again. A salesman is standing outside. He speaks in a slight Tamilian sing-song.

 

Salesman

Hello madam. I’m from the Sparkling Sparkle company, we would like to interest you in our new product. May I come in please?

 

Rashmi turns askance to the others.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Well of course, of course, he’s a customer isn’t he?

 

The salesman enters, a little unsurely.

 

Salesman

Uh, no Sir, I am a salesman.

 

Mister Happy Maker

We’ll soon see about that. What’re you selling?

 

Salesman (producing a bottle of cleaning fluid)

All Purpose Sparkle Cleaner. It is good for all surfaces, ceramic, granite, wood, marble, you can use it for floors, bathrooms, kitchen tiles, anything. Only one drop is necessary. May I demonstrate?

 

Mister Happy Maker

Go ahead.

 

The salesman polishes the arm of a chair.

 

Salesman

See? No more dullness. It is shining bright. Just one drop.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Yes I see. Is that all?

 

Salesman

You can use it on any surface.

 

Mister Happy Maker

You said that already. Is that all?

 

Salesman

We have a buy one get one free offer this month.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Anything else?

 

Salesman

Uh…. no Sir, that’s all. Are you interested in buying?

 

Mister Happy Maker

Why don’t you take a seat?

 

The salesman is taken aback.

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Please! Anywhere!

 

Surprised but complying, the salesman sits on a sofa chair.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Well…you’re competent, and I’m sure you could make a decent career keeping on doing what you’re doing….but that’s about it… I mean it’s fine! Hell, couple of months ago I wasn’t so different from you. I was in advertising…

 

Salesman

Accha?

 

He is listening politely- the others are listening rapt.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Yeah… I was in advertising. In fact, I personally designed half the campaigns you see running today. You’ve seen the new Cadbury ad? The one with Hrithik?

 

Salesman (enthusiastic)

Of course Sir!

 

Mister Happy Maker

That one, among others. I was the best in the business, and that’s no exaggeration. And then, suddenly… last summer… it happened.

 

The salesman waits expectantly- so do the others, though they must know the story already.

 

Mister Happy Maker

You see, people go through their whole lives not knowing the reason they were put here. But when they finally know- and sooner or later, they all do know- at any rate they all can know- how do they react? With a stifled cry of disbelief! With a fearful tip-toe back to their humdrum existence! And a thankful vow never again to leave it! Well, not me! I saw the glaring need of my people, that I was meant to serve. And I took up the gauntlet- I didn’t care that the rabble may laugh in my face. Last summer was the most difficult summer of my life- of all our lives- but I am grateful for it.

 

Salesman (confused)

Last summer?

 

Mister Happy Maker

Don’t say it! Please! We all know- what happened- what almost happened- what did happen- it shook me up, I tell you, it shook me to the core. But I survived…

 

He draws himself erect, and continues proudly.

 

Mister Happy Maker

My name is Mister Happy Maker!

 

Salesman

Excuse me?

 

Mister Happy Maker

Happy Maker! H-A-P-P-Y-M-A-K-E-R! And my work is advertising! Not!-any longer at the behest of my clients- but by the movements of my soul. Not!- any longer a product here and there, but a way of life. The way of life- the only one that can make us all happy. What does that- that cleaner really mean?

 

Salesman

I don’t follow.

 

Mister Happy Maker

It isn’t just a liquid that removes stains. It’s the shine on the surface of life. It’s polish, man! Polish! A drawing room like this one, a wife like her, young people like that, smart and sexy, bookshelves full of fine literature, movies to watch, art to enjoy, food and drink to tickle the fancy, conversation to elevate the mind, it’s a whole world! That’s what I’m selling. Are you interested?

 

Salesman

You are selling something?

 

Mister Happy Maker

I’m selling everything.

 

Salesman

Sorry- my mistake. I thought this was just… a drawing room.

 

There is a general titter of amusement.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Just a drawing room!?

 

Mrs. Happy Maker (curiously)

Where are you from, young man?

 

Salesman

Originally from Srirangam. In Tamil Nadu. Now, five years in this city.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

Tamil Nadu, I see. The land of simple living and high thinking.

 

The salesman laughs agreeably.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Well, this is not just a drawing room. This is a showroom!

 

His wife smiles and nods.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

Look around you! Look at the goods! These are the goods I am urging you to acquire. Oh I know you can’t have them all right away. That’ll take time, maybe generations. But at least you can start cultivating your taste. Go on- here’s an offer- buy anything you see in this room- as a sample of the life that awaits you. Go on, pick something.

 

The salesman looks around, befuddled.

 

Mister Happy Maker

Come on, don’t be shy. I’m offering you the good life.

 

Frazzled, the salesman places his hand on a nearby cushion.

 

Salesman

Uh…How much… this cushion?

 

Mister Happy Maker

8,000.

 

Salesman

Too much!

 

Mister Happy Maker

Then choose again! Buy a movie- I have the finest of world cinema! Buy a book from my shelf- I have Shakespeare, Dickens, Alice Munroe, and a complete set of Granta Magazine!

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

That should appeal to your intellectual Tamilian lineage!

 

Salesman

Sorry Sir. My English is not that good.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

Oh- but I thought they loved to read down there!

 

Kartik

Maybe there’s some caste issue.

 

Mrs. Happy Maker

Oh yes, I forgot about that…

 

At this stage, Alok arrives in the living room, and watches the proceedings in silence.

 

Mister Happy Maker

It doesn’t matter. There are books to teach you English. You cannot have the good life unless you know English!

 

Salesman

Sir, I don’t want anything. Are you interested in buying the All Purpose Sparkle Cleaner?

 

Mister Happy Maker

Is a billionaire interested in buying from a beggar? You can leave- and my fee is 10, 000 rupees.

 

Salesman

What!?

 

Mister Happy Maker

My fee.

 

Salesman

For what?

 

Mister Happy Maker

For my work, of course.

 

Salesman

What work?

 

Mister Happy Maker

An artist does not create for charity! If the public have consumed his art- as you just did- it’s only obvious they should pay him!

 

Salesman

What… art!?

 

Mister Happy Maker

The advertisement I have provided you, what else! This glimpse of my life- this display of my wealth- for my life is my message and in my wealth is your happiness! Mr. Happy Maker advertises happiness, he does it himself, he takes no commission… only you, the consuming public, must pay him!

 

Salesman

Are you mad??

 

He turns to leave.

 

Happy Maker

Hey! Stop!

 

Salesman

Chhodo mere ko!

 

Happy Maker

Stop, I say! Stop! Thief!

 

Still crying ‘Thief!’ he latches onto the saleman’s shirt. Frightened and confused, the man strikes out and catches Happy Maker a glancing blow on the face. Mrs. Happy Maker cries out in alarm. The salesman escapes to the door, from where he turns and lets loose a volley of invective.

 

Salesman

Pagal kahin ka! Police ko bulaoon? Kya kya bole ja raha hai saala-

 

At this stage his speech turns to perfect gibberish. The gibberish continues for several seconds, while Happy Maker and the others stare bewildered. Then the salesman leaves.

 

Happy Maker

What… what was he saying?

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Are you ok?!

 

Happy Maker

What was he saying- could you understand?

 

Kartik

It was just noises- that’s all.

 

Rashmi

Yeah.

 

Happy Maker (bewildered, rubbing his cheek)

I don’t understand… He ought to have been grateful.

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Oh he was just a foolish young man! Are you ok? Let me see!

 

Happy Maker

I’m fine. But why couldn’t he see… I was doing him good. I was helping him!

 

Kartik

Boss, listen.

 

Happy Maker

This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening.

 

Kartik

I have a suggestion- for the other customers.

 

Alok (screaming)

People! Say people!

 

Happy Maker (spotting him)

Oh dear…

 

Alok

People, everywhere! Swarming like flies! Every shape, colour, language, dress, thrown together! Dying together! In filth, poverty! In processions! Processions processions processions! Processions up to our ears, cramming our nostrils! Nothing connects!

 

Happy Maker

Somebody attend to him.

 

Rashmi holds Alok by the shoulders.

 

Rashmi

Alok, pipe down.

 

Alok

The body cannot hold it’s contents! The body is bursting at the seams!

 

Rashmi

Here- come here.

 

She pulls him over to the mantelpiece, and starts to pour him a drink.

 

Rashmi

Have a drink. You’ll feel better.

 

She presses the glass on him. Alok dashes it to the floor. She cries out in anger.

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Alok!

 

Kartik (exasperated)

Oh Jesus.

 

Happy Maker

That’s enough! I’ve had it with this boy!

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Dear, please-

 

Happy Maker

He brings down our whole business with that moping face and those mad hallucinations. How can I make people happy when my own son is mad!

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Don’t say that!

 

Happy Maker

Yes, mad! Mad! That’s what he is!

 

He stomps out of the room.

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Darling! (she starts to follow, then pauses to speak quickly to Kartik) Talk to him please.

 

Kartik

Why me??

 

Mrs Happy Maker

Please Kartik- you’re all the same age.

 

She hurries out after her husband, leaving the three young people together.

 

Kartik (to Rashmi)

Hey, you ok?

 

Rashmi

Yeah… (pirouttes to check her instep)… Didn’t spill on me- I think.

 

Kartik

Be careful of the broken glass- it’s all over the place. Man, what the fuck is wrong with you?

 

Alok (contrite, awkward, cringing)

Sorry. I’m sorry.

 

Kartik

Jesus!

 

He stands with hands on hips and looks at Alok.

 

Kartik

Why don’t you get a job?

 

Alok

I’ll- I’ll go upstairs.

 

Rashmi (grabbing his arm)

No you won’t! Make a mess like this, then saunter off! You stay right here!

 

(She pulls him to a sofa chair and sits him down. He looks at her with fearful eyes. Suddenly she kisses him passionately on the mouth.)

 

Rashmi (disengaging)

Feel better now?

 

Alok stares at Kartik.

 

Alok

How do you feel?

 

Kartik

Perfect.

 

Alok

You’re not- angry- when she does that… it doesn’t make you jealous?

 

Kartik and Rashmi both laugh.

 

Rashmi

Why should he be jealous?

 

She turns and kisses Kartik. Later, they look at Alok. He has his head in his hands.

 

Rashmi

Ohhhh what a loser!

 

Kartik

Dude… Dude… talk to us. What’s the problem? Come on, we’re here to help.

 

There is silence, during which he and Rashmi arrange their expressions of sympathy. Alok shakes his head.

 

Alok

You won’t understand.

 

Rashmi

My my, Mr. Complicated.

 

Alok

Please leave me alone… I wish everyone would just leave me alone.

 

Rashmi

I say we grant him his wish.

 

Kartik

Hang on. You know, Alok, we would all leave you alone- trust me, we’d love to- but the hitch is that your parents care about you. They don’t want to see their only child growing fat and selfish and lazy and brooding! And- and Alok- how can you be like this? Dude, these times we live in- these are fantastic times! Your Dad is a visionary. I mean, anybody with any sense would kill to be a part of what we’re a part of.

 

Alok

This war?

 

Kartik

War? What’re you talking about? This idea. This enterprise. Call it what you like. You could even call it art- I mean, it’s moulding something from nothing.

 

Rashmi (with sudden inspiration)

Are you an artist, dear boy? Is that what you do all day, sitting in your room all by yourself? Do you paint?

 

Alok

No…

 

Rashmi (cracking herself up)

Do we have a little Van-Gogh on our hands? Would that explain the deep depression? Or is writing your thing? Long epics of love- no, lust!- all your secret frustrations, your dirty desires- do you shove them under the mattress because the world just isn’t ready for them?

 

Kartik (smiling)

He doesn’t write ya… Doesn’t write or draw or sing or play or dance.

 

Alok

No…

 

He gets up.

 

Alok

I don’t. I wish I could. I wish I had a talent. But all I can do, is listen.

 

We hear a brief snatch of the opening cacophony, then it snaps out to silence. Meanwhile, Alok’s voice is re-capturing an explosive timbre.

 

Alok

All I can do is watch!

 

Rashmi (perturbed by his tone)

Watch what? The plaster peeling?

 

Alok

And think. And dream. Oh I do dream.

 

Kartik

Great, great, great! And does any of that make you happy??

 

Alok looks at him in disbelief.

 

Kartik

Does all this morbid, self-centred dreaming make you… ok listen- fuck the bullshit! Screw this ‘Happy Making’! Do you want to be someone Alok? Do you want to be noticed? Do you want to be successful? Then all you have to do is look at your dad. His career graph… (Kartik draws a line in the air angling straight up)… you see? Prestigious college, foreign degree, best ad agency, international awards, youngest to be promoted to every level- which is a record- head of department, head of agency- the man’s a marvel! I don’t know if I have his ability because that’s not in my hands- but his work ethic, his motivation, his attitude- I have studied and adopted them- and it’s got me where I am. I’m telling you, Alok, your father is a role model, for anybody with any ambition.

 

Alok

Maybe that’s the problem.

 

Kartik (not listening, getting more off his chest)

Hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m young. I’m normal. I have needs. I want things. I want a house like this… I want… (his thoughts overwhelm him)…Everybody knows there’s only one way to get ahead, and that’s to get with the right people. You know, when your dad quit the agency, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, I knew I had to go with him. I had to keep close to him, in whatever he was doing, because the closer you are to success the closer you are to success- if you know what I mean.

 

Rashmi

He’s not listening Kartik… He’s dreaming again.

 

Alok has walked away from the two of them and slumped down on the sofa. He hangs his head.

 

Rashmi

Well, we tried.

 

She takes hold of Kartik’s hand and starts to lead him out of the room.

 

Alok

You’re not in love.

 

They turn quizzically.

 

Rashmi

What?

 

Alok

Why do you touch each other- that way- when you’re not in love?

 

Rashmi (sarcastic)

Ohhh… I’m so so-oory. Did we offend your delicate sensibilities?

 

Alok

Why do you do it?

 

Kartik

Dude, she’s my girlfriend.

 

Alok

How can you do it? I mean, if all that you’re bent on is going (he mimics Kartik’s ascending graph), I mean, you can’t possibly have the time for love. You can’t possibly have the eyes for it. When you never see another person, how do you see each other?

 

Kartik

Is this, like, an interview?

 

Rashmi

Poor boy…I think he’s feeling lonely.

 

Alok

Oh I am that.

 

Rashmi

We should be more considerate, Kartik. We shouldn’t do this in front of him.

 

Kartik

Do what?

 

Rashmi reaches her hand for his cheek and they kiss lengthily. There is silence until they have finished.

 

Rashmi

Mmm… Now I feel happy.

 

Kartik

I feel happy too.

 

Rashmi

Come baby.

 

Again, she turns to leave.

 

Alok

Do you know- do you know what really gets to me?

 

Rashmi

Ignore him. He’s quite mad!

 

But Kartik pauses and they linger anyway.

 

Alok

What gets to me, what- what- what sticks in the craw…(he swallows hard)

 

Kartik

Oh I know what gets to you- and people like you! Other people getting ahead, other people having some fun, making some money, making some luuuve!

 

Mister Happy Maker (from off-stage)

Kartik!

 

Kartik (half-turning)

Coming Sir!

 

Alok (overlapping, ignoring him)

It’s not the not-having… it’s not the deprivation… it’s not the feeling sick…the feeling lost…

 

Happy Maker

Kartik! Rashmi!

 

Rashmi

Just a sec!

 

Alok

It’s the advertisements… Oh God, I tell you, it’s the FUCKING ADVERTISEMENTS!

 

Happy Maker

Kartik!

 

Kartik turns and hurries out. In the wake of his outburst Alok is seething silently, breathing sparsely. Rashmi gives him a scornful flying kiss- and follows her boyfriend. Alok is left alone, in the very slowly dimming light, which goes out by the end of his speech.

 

Alok

Yes, yes, go on and mock me. You say you’re happy, I know I’m not. Go on then, and beat me into a corner. I can accept that fate. But don’t say I’m mad- then you scare me! Madness is the loneliest thing- don’t say I’m mad… And why… Am I mad because I can’t help you, because first I must help myself? Because I sift through my nightmares in search of a dream? Or are you mad- because you act- brutally- you act- when you have only a vacuum for a vision? Am I mad because I suffer and brood…or are you… because you don’t…

 






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