Play brings visa struggles to life

New Visit Visa, the story of a worker from India who narrates a story which begins the day before his visa expires, opens today in Abu Dhabi.

Gagan Mudgal, the actor and writer of New Visit Visa, plays 15 roles in the play.
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ABU DHABI // A 15-character, one-man play that chronicles the travails of trying to find employment while on a visit visa to the UAE opens today in the capital. Written by Gagan Mudgal, who also delivers all the dialogue on stage, New Visit Visa is the story of Dilip Das, a worker from India who narrates a story which begins the day before his visa expires. He retraces his journey to the point where a friend "promises to help him make money in Dubai".

"Everyone can associate with the script," said Mr Mudgal, 31. "From a managing director to a labourer can connect with aspects of the story. From waiting for a cab to not having enough money to eat." Mr Mudgal worked on the script for four months while taking copious notes on his surroundings. "I keep observing life when I walk around in Dubai," he said. "From a society lady to a taxi driver; from a guy who works in a salon to a young woman who is constantly tagging people in photos on Facebook, everybody is there in this play."

Das finds himself sharing his living quarters with six men from different countries. Mr Mudgal plays all of them, complete with their varying accents and mannerisms. "He has to share everything with these people," he said. "His bathroom, bedroom space and even his TV." Mr Mudgal, who grew up in India, began writing plays when he was eight. He arrived in Dubai in 2002 as a radio disc jockey and dabbled in theatre on the side by hosting play readings in coffee shops.

"Unfortunately, local theatre is not happening here," he said. "Sponsors don't support us and auditoriums are really expensive to rent." Instead, he said, sponsors preferred getting behind shows with Bollywood stars, where ticket prices could reach Dh400 (US$109). In 2006, he performed a similar play for 1,500 workers at a labour camp in Dubai. "The workers at the camp loved the characters," he said. "Some of them were crying when I did the mother's part, where her son is leaving the country."

For the new play, he has added more characters and a different perspective of Dubai. "Since then, there has been a lot of changes in Dubai," he said. "The Metro, the housing situation and the Burj Khalifa. I've updated the script." Mr Mudgal left Dubai in 2006 and said he had "grown bored. I was doing the same thing and wanted to do something different." He wrote screenplays in Mumbai, dubbed English films such as Casino Royale in Hindi and acted in a film called Tera Kya Hoga Johnny? What Will Happen to You, Johnny?, directed by Sudhir Mishra. It was released last year.

Then he received a call to become the head of programming for a radio station in Dubai and returned to work with Cool 94.7 FM last year. For New Visit Visa, he has drawn inspiration from the many conversations he has with his listeners. "I am really excited about bringing the play to Abu Dhabi, because a lot of my listeners have suggested bringing theatre to their city," he said. "I wanted to bring theatre here and promote it. When markets are down and people are not willing to buy expensive tickets, theatre is a choice."

On the 60th day in the play, there are surprises about whether the character manages to find a job. "Dilip Das is my favourite character," Mr Mudgal said. "He knows it all. He is the narrator of the story and it remains to be seen how it ends. There is a surprise." sbhattacharya@thenational.ae