Off the Hook: A musical

Anju Makhija

This play is excerpted from the book, Mumbai Traps: Collected Plays.

Off the Hook is a musical inspired by the mythological sufi saint, Lord Jhulelal, the legendary mystic of the Indus valley. By divine intervention, a fish with an evolutionary leap reincarnates into a handsome, young man, Toochy. He is rescued by a frustrated woman, Sheila, who cannot get enough of him! Like any immigrant to Mumbai, he must sharpen his survival skills to confront the city seeped in purgatorial desires and pursuits.

To satisfy his need for name and fame, Toochy successfully launches a seafood restaurant, a line of perfumes and a consultancy for the conservation of marine life. Unfortunately, all this is short-lived as he develops a rather odd handicap – a ‘fishy’ smell that accompanies him wherever he goes and threatens his very survival! Soon, everyone starts wearing masks to avoid the embarrassing odour! With determination, Toochy tries to turn this unexpected setback to his favour.

The chorus, comprising of disciples of Lord Jhulelal, wearing fish head masks, offer advice. Toochy rejects them, choosing to go his own way. Where does this situation lead too? Is he able to overcome his handicap? Does the city accept him? Which of the three women in his life helps him in the end?

A well-crafted play with lyrical cadence and original songs set to sufi music.

Off The Hook
(A Musical)

Main Characters:

TOOCHY: About 28 years, good looking.

GANGA: About 24 years, belongs to the Koli fishing community of Mumbai.

SHEILA: About 52 years, over- weight.

SHARON: About 25 years, very elegant.

CHORUS: Disciples of the Lord Jhulelal.

Note:All songs are original and can be sung with a fusion of contemporary and sufi styles. The disciples may wear fish head masks and whirl with sufi flair. Lord Jhulelal is a saint who performed several miracles around the Indus river. He is worshipped at a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh province by both Hindus and Muslims.


A shimmering fishnet backdrop. Sounds of sea waves are heard. Sheila, in an old fashion swimsuit and heart shaped glasses, applies

sun tan lotion. Her doddering husband, back to the audience, faces the sea with a rod ‘n hook in hand. Sheila taps his shoulders, he tilts towards the side.

SHEILA : This man is…
(Song-1) too old for dance,
too old for prance,
too old for everything!

              Dried-up ink,
              no visible imprint,
              a terrible, terrible fink.

              I need a…
              man in heat,
              power in every heartbeat,
              caressing my tender feet.

              A whale of a hunk,
              a sizeable chunk,
              a tiger in my bunk.

              This man is…
              too old for dance,
              too old for prance,
              too old for everything!

(A fish suddenly bites the bait, pulls the man from his chair and violently drags him into the sea. He disappears into the nets. Silence. Gentle wave sounds are heard. Toochy appears in slow motion from the nets. He picks up the man’s glasses, throws it, turns to Sheila and utters some words that sound like gibberish at first. Then, he slowly removes his fish mask, stretches tall and transforms into a man. Sheila, bewildered, moves away. He takes her in his arms and kisses her boldly. They drift into the darkness. The fish chorus appears in a swirling motion from the nets to the music of Mast Kalander.)


Sheila’s garish-looking home. Toochy has made himself comfortable. The couple have a blissful time passing a large beach ball back and forth, cooking meals, singing and making love.

TOOCHY: The wish of every fish is to be a man.
(Song-2) Erect and firm, strong at every turn.

               God made man as he never did a fish.
               Man sips wine, reads and dines.

               Power in every bone, enjoying his home.
               Never in a hurry, not a single worry.

                Fishes are caught and killed.
                Head chopped off, fried and grilled.

(Toochy admires himself in the mirror, Sheila drops into his arms.)

SHEILA: I call him Toochy,
my lovable macchi.
He got a cute assy,
young and sassy!

            I’ve waited so long,
            for a delicious moron.
            I’ll stick out my tongue,
            gobble him inside a bun!

(She hugs him possessively, kisses each finger.)

TOOCHY: Sheilu, my mithu, let me rest. My beard has grown, I need to shave, get myself into shape.

SHEILA: Let’s play a little more, my macchi.

TOOCHY: No, no, please.

(She passes the ball, he catches and returns with gusto. It lands on Sheila’s chest – she trips, fumes.)

SHEILA: You terrible, terrible mate,
(Song-3) treating me like a stale date.
I don’t care for your damn fate.

TOOCHY: You’re a woman in heat,
turning into a leech.
I’ll flee beyond your reach.

SHEILA: Where will you go?
What will you do?
Neither a chemist,
nor a scientist are you.

             Unqualified wimp,
             worse than a shrimp,
             you’re so totally dumb,
             why on earth did you come?

(Sheila pushes him into the net, the two get comically entangled. Toochy manages to stick his head out, removes a pocket book,‘Science of Success’ and reads.)

TOOCHY: Success Law 1:
Pretend you’re everywhere,
although you’re nowhere.

              Success Law 2:
              Burst whopping bombs,
              write cheerful songs.              

Success Law 3:
Hang out at bars,
drive fancy cars.

              Success Law 4:
              Choose to fly high,
              never say die.

SHEILA: Success Law 5:
Always be kissing,
even if love is missing.

(Toochy disentangles himself and exits from the net.)

TOOCHY: I’m happy to be a man. What a wonderful creation! He stands tall, wears a suit, bets on horses, sails the seas, takes a flight, goes on a safari and can express many emotions.

SHEILA: Fishes don’t laugh or cry?

TOOCHY: Nor do they wear suits or a fine pair of boots. I must do something to make my mark. You’re right, I have no qualification, no experience. What can I do? My life has been spent in the sea, in underwater escapades.

SHEILA: Underwater escapades? You naughty fish, let’s try some deep sea diving.

TOOCHY: No, no what else can I do? What, what? You tell me, my rolly-pollymithu.

SHEILA: Oh God, you’re such a bore. Like every man you want fame and name. Shame, shame!

TOOCHY: Maybe, I can work on a ship or teach diving?

SHEILA: Dive into me, my macchi.

TOOCHY: What else can I do? What?

SHEILA: Do the obvious darling, serve yourself!

TOOCHY: Serve myself?
SHEILA: Yes, start a fish restaurant. I’ll eat you alive.

(She grabs him. Toochy resists at first, then excited, responds.)

TOOCHY: Superb, brilliant! The obvious is sometimes hidden like corals in the sea. Yes, a fish restaurant it will be. Money, name, fame, all mine. Oh, it’ll be so divine! I’m off to make my plans. Bye, Shelumithu, thank you.

SHEILA: Go, I’ll find more exotic dishes from the sea.

TOOCHY: Not likely. I’m the only one blessed with a boon from my guru, Jhulelal. What wonderful days you’ve given me, darling. Now, it’s time to put my name on the door.

SHEILA: You’ll have to get your own door first, you stinky fish.

(He whirls joyfully to the theme music.)

SHEILA: Why do you go round and round? Makes me dizzy.

TOOCHY: It’s a whirling dance.

SHEILA: Oh God, you mad creatures! What boon are you talking about? Fishes don’t have boons or gurus. No more T.V. for you. Those cartoons have made you weird. Sit in the tub instead, refresh your brain cells. You may even grow fins and forget your Jhu…Jhu…Julius Caesar.

TOOCHY: Jhulelal is our God. Many businessmen, living in the Indus Valley, prayed to him for safely crossing the rough waters. We have worshipped him for centuries.

SHEILA: How many centuries, you fossil? Anyway, no one travels by sea any more.

TOOCHY: You’re right. When airplanes came, people travelled less by water. Many forgot Jhulelal, but we stayed loyal. He is my guru and I was his cleverest disciple.

SHEILA: Really? Like all fish, you look dumb to me.

TOOCHY: Fishes are the ancestors of man and capable of much more than you think. Do you know how many species are there? How many colours? Humans are just brown, white or black and get lost in the human zoo. Phooo!

SHEILA: We wear clothes, you creatures run around naked. (Stripping him.) Lucky for me!

(Toochy escapes her clawing. The chorus appears whirling from the net. Sheila looks on flabbergasted.)

CHORUS: O star fish,
(Song-4) you’re our special dish.
In a class of your own,
scales brighter than gold.

SHEILA: Who are these creatures?
Julius Caesar’s preachers?

CHORUS: To be a formidable name
takes generations of games,
much guts, more hate,
but that’s not your fate.

               Dear immigrant,
               return home to the sea…

TOOCHY: Why should I return
where corals trap me
and swordfish roam free?

CHORUS: Here, there’s no creed,
barely any sign of greed.
No deodorants we need,
or laundered bedsheets.

               Fish never carry heavy bags,
               hang from buses or cabs.

SHEILA: I need a shrink,
or at least a stiff drink!

CHORUS: Man should reincarnate
to the ancestor of vertebrates.
We are unique organisms,
beyond all comparison.

              We camouflage with seasons,
              our eyes see in all directions.

              Dear immigrant,
              return home to the sea…

TOOCHY: No! I am a man on a roll,
not a fish out of control.
I was a puffer, a rare breed,
a deadly poisonous feed.

              Now I’ve lost my puffy form,
              I am handsome and strong.

              I’ll start a fancy restaurant,
              earn money I can flaunt.

(The chorus mournfully retreats into the net.)

SHEILA: Oh God, who were those creatures?

TOOCHY: My friends from the sea, they still adore me.

(Sheila starts sniffing around.)

SHEILA: What is that horrible smell?

TOOCHY: What smell? I must start planning my business.

SHEILA: All businessmen are money-mongers. (Hugs him.) Better one person remember you in love than a hundred in hate.

TOOCHY: Who cares if they never put flowers on my grave or my photo in a frame? I want to be counted among the millionaires – Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis!

SHEILA: You, a millionaire?

TOOCHY: Once I’m rich, I’ll have a charity ball. Let me think, put it in ink. Charity for whom and charity for what? In aid of Cancer, Leukemia or Malaria?

SHEILA: (falling into his arms.) What about Sheileria?

TOOCHY: I’ll have a puffer of a charity. I’m getting cleverer by the minute! Have you noticed that?

(Elated, he dances. Suddenly, a strong fishy smell fills the room. The audience should also get a mild whiff and possibly react.)


Home, night. Sheila is working on the computer.

SHEILA: I’ve been researching – you puffer fish are poisonous creatures. A real danger to humans. Yet, the Japanese love you and train special licensed chefs to serve puffer at an exorbitant price.

(Toochy grabs a printout which is near the computer.)

TOOCHY: What? The Japanese are willing to pay a high price? Where did you get this?

SHEILA: Internet. Never heard of google down there? Never googled or giggled?

TOOCHY: Let me see that (reads) ‘Puffers are served as a delicacy in Japan and some western countries. This deadly poisonous fish is also called fugu. Barely a handful of restaurants in America serve it. Fugu is pale and white but don’t be fooled by its looks. It carries the deadly tetrodotoxin poison that kills. Only licensed chefs, who are trained to remove the poison, can serve it. In special examinations, merely 30% of chefs pass the test on how to cook the puffer fish in a way that is safe for human consumption’.
TOOCHY: I am a fugu!

SHEILA: A complete fool, a duffer.

TOOCHY: I knew I was different.

SHEILA: Want to roast and serve yourself to me for dinner? Come to the kitchen: I’ll set your butt on fire.

TOOCHY: I am ambitious, I’m poisonous… a wonderful combination! People will adore me. Sheelu, my rolly-polly, is there a Fugu restaurant in Mumbai?

SHEILA: Stop calling me rolly-polly, you puffer-duffer! There are no Fugu restaurants in the city. But there are enough poisons in our polluted air to kill us. We could do with one more – you. Serve yourself to me – baked, grilled or fried, I’ll put chilli sauce in your eyes.

(She places a plate under his butt.)

TOOCHY: No, be serious. There are many Puffers down there. I’ll put my underwater friends to work. Then, I’ll breed them up here.

SHEILA: You’ll serve your own relatives? I thought your guru wanted you to serve mankind. Isn’t that why Julius Caesar sent you here?

TOOCHY: Not Julius Caesar, Jhulelal! I need to get into business. A puffer of a business! If the Japanese have developed a taste for it, why not the Indians? There are many billionaires in Mumbai.

SHEILA: And millions of vegans and Brahmins.

TOOCHY: Bye, I’m off to work. You’ll only see me at night, when you need me most.

(He kisses her passionately, she melts in his arms.)

SHEILA: Oh yes, yes! My puffy hunk, chew my bones in your bunk. Fill me with poisons, I’ll bear your little puffers. You can serve them to your guests. By the way, I meant to ask you, if you’re a phissssssh, how did you learn to speak our language?

TOOCHY: Mithu, I told you my boon equipped me fully: body, brains and language. Lord Jhulelalis generous; make him your guru too.