Ruchika’s adaptation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for Sanjivini’s anniversary event was a poignant and layered comment on today’s society.

To mark its 38th years of selfless service to those suffering from mental and emotional crises, Sanjivini Society For Mental Health presented “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at Kamani auditorium this past week to reinforce its commitment to pioneer a new humanitarian and scientific approach to the treatment of psychiatric patients. The play presents a harrowing picture of hapless inmates of a mental hospital who are treated like guinea pigs by a heartless hospital management. In fact, in a country like India with remnants of feudal culture where a large number of psychiatric patients are dealt with in a barbaric manner, the play is highly relevant.

Written by Ken Kesey, an American novelist, in 1962, it was adapted into a Broadway play as well as for the 1975 American film directed by Milos Forman, winning five Academy Awards. Produced by Ruchika, the play under review has been adapted and directed by Feisal Alkazi. Kesey wrote this novel against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movements in the U.S. Though on the surface the novel depicts the suppression of basic rights of the patients suffering from mental maladies, it is a kind of metaphor to reflect a fascistic regime which silences voices of dissent with state violence. Feisal’s adapted version in English is translated into Hindi by Kirandeep Sharma. By changing most of the names of the characters into Indian ones and with offstage Hindi songs, the adapted version attempts to give the play an Indian colour.

We see a hospital ward with patients forced to follow a boring daily routine. Suddenly the dull, colourless and lifeless atmosphere is transformed into disorder with the admission of a new patient named Prabhu Prakash who seems to be feigning madness to escape a rigorous jail term and is referred to the mental hospital for observation. Full of energy, he is brash and violent and resists the strict discipline imposed by the hospital management. Other inmates who have been suffering silently the highhandedness of the staff now gradually started rallying round the new patient. The defiance gradually takes the form of direct confrontation between Prabhu and the head nurse who is the embodiment of the oppression which finally culminates in catastrophe.

In the course of mutual interactions, the past of these patients is revealed. One patient, Sardar, was witness to the fall of his father betrayed by his mother. The father was the head of a tribal community who enjoyed immense respect and authority. Sardar’s mother, who hailed from a non-tribal community, conspired with her husband’s enemies and reduced him to the status of a nonentity. Unable to bear the fall of his father and the perfidy of his mother, Sardar became emotionally and mentally violent and is diagnosed as schizophrenic. He remains deaf and dumb. The brash new patient wins his confidence, revealing that he is faking his madness. One of the patients is shy, stammers and is timid. Whenever his mother visits him he becomes emotionally disturbed and fears the very presence of the head nurse. There is a patient who is in a vegetative state after he was given barbaric treatment to stop him from his violent activities. Inflicting electric shocks to unruly patients is a practice followed without exception.

The set designed by Jagan Shah follows the box-set pattern that creates the required background and provides maximum space for the action, which takes place on the centre stage. Through the conversations between the patients it is revealed that there are two types of ward — one for the acute patients who have hope of recovery and the other for those who have no chance of getting back to normalcy. The entire action takes place in the ward for “acute” patients. In one corner is a small room for nurses. Here ward meetings between patients, nurses and a doctor take place in a routine manner. The doctor appears to be a mere puppet at the hands of the head nurse. The room for electric shock and other severe kind of treatment including lobotomy, a kind of neurosurgery that reduces violent patients into a vegetative state are shown off stage.

Director Feisal and his cast gradually create a tense atmosphere. As the production gains momentum, the characters start teeming with emotion expressed in tense voices. The climactic scene evokes a sense of horror as well as relief. The cast gives an impressive performance. Jaipreet Singh as Prabhu Prakash, Nikhil Murali as Sardar impart to their roles vitality, strong motivations and subtle touches of irony. Gayatri Khanna as head nurse Lucy is an embodiment of tyranny carrying out brutal acts in an insidious manner. Pranay Manchanda paints a convincing portrait of an emotionally disturbed, timid and weak-willed young man, evoking a sense of horror and pity.