Tune into The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour Wherever You Can

Nitin Vengurlekar, the star and screenwriter (based on his play of the same name) of Platon Theodoris’ The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour has spoken in an interview how he abhors metaphors. He has some good reasoning behind his argument, but despite his protestations there are actually plenty of metaphors in the film – from the rapid fire dialogue of Neville Umbrellaman (played by Nitin Vengurlekar) which references everything from the seeds of existence to jokes about Foucault and Schrödinger’s cat, to the thrift shop kitsch of the garage studio where Neville (aka Rabindranath Chakraborty, insurance salesman by day) where the detritus of other people’s discarded belongings bring a sense of melancholy to the comic proceedings.

On FFFFFM on AM, Neville Umbrellaman hosts a radio show nightly between 12-12.45am. The program is called ‘The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour’ and mixes Neville’s Goon Show comedy stylings with public domain music and interludes played by Freddy Nietchze’s Good-time Bee-Bop Quintet (keep an eye and ear out for all the clever cultural and philosophical references, they’re dizzyingly brilliant). He muses on everything from the nature of loneliness to wellness culture, pseudoscience, disappointing imagined romances, the correct manner to use deodorant and the ethical implications therein, to the constant drive to sell, sell, sell, in commercial spaces. Neville’s nervous energy is infectious, and the absurdity of his venture is rendered perfectly in Vengurlekar’s script and Theodoris’ direction. The studio makes no sense, just as Neville’s musings could be nonsense (they’re not). At one moment it is a cluttered space with just Neville and his makeshift console, at another it is filled with actual jazz musicians and special guest artists.

When the audience realises that Rabindranath Chakraborty is actually suffering brain death in hospital the weirdness clicks into place. Is the radio show a memory? Is it something that his dying mind is conjuring? Is it a combination of both? No matter what it is in terms of reality, its unreality is something that renders it deeply real.

As the audience moves between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’ a picture of an eccentric man surrounded by equally eccentric outsiders forms. There is the folk singer Kenneth Wong (Teik-Kim Pok) who is supposed to sing about the brutality of the world but really just wants to sing out of tune songs about his cat, Waffles. There is boulangèreYvette (Alison Bennett) of whom Neville asks the question of whether sourdough and the bacteria that is at its core is somehow the genesis of the universe. It’s a question that Yvette isn’t interested in answering as she changes from being French, to German, to Russian in quick succession while rolling what is clearly playdough on a table in the studio.

The most important person waiting in the wings to perform on Neville’s show is Sabrina (Sabrina Chan D’Angelo) who is Rabindranath’s workmate and someone who clearly has a crush on him as much as he does her. Her performance is distinctly visual for a radio show (and hilarious) and eventually Rabindranath gets the courage up to ask her to stick around and listen to some music which leads to a romance – Vengurlekar and Theodoris never tell if this is the way their real-life romance blossomed, but that it happened is something that the hospital scenes confirm. Also, there are some wonderful shots of the couple outside one of the many “big things” in Australia (Australia’s love for bizarre tourist attractions that are big animals rivals America’s – the film shows the Big Merino, the Big Lobster, the Big Murray Cod and the Big Koala each captured in a remarkable off-kilter manner by cinematographer Brian Rapsey).

Theodoris and Vengurlekar acknowledge the influence of Jacques Tati on their work, and that influence could tip the entire film into whimsy if not for the extraordinary heart and truth that the film displays. The tagline for the film is “There are no rehearsals” and because a young man who is seemingly healthy one moment faces death at the next makes the message genuine. Rabindranath came to life as Neville Umbrellaman, but he also managed to come to life as Rabindranath and step outside his parent’s garage to experience some of the magic of the real world.

The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour is a low budget indie although it looks superb, every location is gloriously captured, every prop has been assiduously chosen. It’s funny, sad, and wise. Amiably driven by Nitin Vengurlekar’s charmingly delivered performance as the twitchy and droll Neville Umbrellaman. Supporting performances by Joyce Edmonds as his Mum and especially Sabrina Chan D’Angelo add to the already massive heart that the film wears on its sleeve.

To say there are very few films like The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour in Australian cinema would not be an understatement. The country is great at producing quirky comedies with some of Australia’s biggest exports being films like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert but that film was comparatively huge in scale. Comedy is certainly one of Australia’s strengths, but often the smaller budgeted pieces sadly go unnoticed (look at the gorgeous H is for Happiness). With The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour going on a limited tour of Australia from March 18th Australian audiences have a chance to experience one to the finest and wittiest dramatic comedies to come out in years. The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour will simultaneously break you and heal your existential crisis. Tune into it wherever you can. Oooh yeah!

Director: Platon Theodoris

Cast: Nitin Vengurlekar, Sabrina Chan D’Angelo, Alison Bennett

Writers: Platon Theodoris, Nitin Vengurlekar

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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