These plays weren't fun. They weren't intended to be. Media Mix's recent theatre festival featured ‘30 Days in September' (by Mahesh Dattani) and ‘Love on the Brink' (based on the 1964 Broadway hit “Luv” by Murray Schisgal.) Both plays, directed by Lilette Dubey, were staged on consecutive days, no doubt to strike the conventional balance between darkness and laughter.
However, in retrospect, both turned out to be dark and unexpectedly uncomfortable, unflinchingly bringing up and exploring issues most people prefer to evade. For those who believe theatre should bring us face to face with our failings and fears, it worked. For those who use theatre for blissful escapism, it probably didn't. Even ‘Love on the Brink' which promised to be a rollicking comedy turned out to be all about angst-ridden existential dilemmas. Or, in plain English: crushing hopelessness. The kind that makes heroes jump off bridges. With shower caps. (Now there's a nod to comedy.)
The first play, originally written for the RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest) Foundation, was born out of stories the women from the organisation shared with Dattani.
Intense and honest, the play builds on its powerful script with a well-chosen cast. Ira Dubey plays Mala, broken and cynical because of a traumatic childhood in which she was repeatedly abused by her uncle. Lilette Dubey plays her mother, haunted by her own demons; desperately hoping religion will solve her problems. The real life mother and daughter duo bring their own chemistry on stage and are gut-wrenchingly convincing.
Joy Sengupta (as Deepak Bhatia, Mala's boyfriend), and Amar Talwar (who's compellingly creepy as Mala's maternal uncle) complete the cast. The story is centred round Mala's journey towards healing, but it also allows all the characters to grow, taking the audience along. They do waver on histrionic occasionally. A fact that's emphasised by over dramatic effects, like retro Bollywood-style crashing thunder or a spot-lit symbolic rag doll. However, by the end, the audience is so emotionally invested in the story that catharsis is as much a relief to us as it is to Mala.
‘Love on the Brink' is intended to be a wickedly satirical comedy about three hopelessly entangled people. There's Bandy (Joy Sengupta), the wretched existentialist, who has decided to end his life by jumping off a bridge, (which, by the way, is delightfully scenic, given the cunningly designed sets complete with ingeniously orchestrated sounds and lights providing the background of a stormy sea.)
Sengupta is gloriously neurotic in this role, an apt foil for Chops (Kumud Mishra), lovably pompous and infatuated with a bimbo he's desperate to marry. So he convinces Bandy to get off the ledge, and marry his wife, the endearingly earnest Amu (Shivani Tanksale). In the tradition of theatre of the absurd, there's plenty of broad comedy, incorporating bits of vaudeville and straight up buffoonery. They jump, dance and cycle across the stage. They dive off the bridge, fight and pause to eat bananas. Yet, it's bleak: all restless machinations of the hopeless.
Although the performances are sincere, the production lacks character, perhaps because it ends on a fashionably unresolved note. Perhaps because it's based on a story built on a style of humour that's outdated. Jerky, suicidal, neurotic jokes about the futility of life aren't funny anymore. Not in today's world that's struggling to find a raison d'être. More importantly, they're not new or shocking concepts anymore, so they break no ground.
‘Love on The Brink' confronts base human emotions, but doesn't nail them as bravely as ‘30 Days in September' does. In the end you're left with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.
Perhaps that's a good thing. Sometimes theatre should raise more questions than it can answer.