“Do You Really Love Me?”, presented as a two-act play, suffered from a disjointed narrative and audio-visual elements that didn’t help its cause

Naushil Mehta’s “Do You Really Love Me?” presented by Dramatech last week at Shri Ram Centre explores the way humanity responds to the noble instinct of love in the time of social turmoil. It follows the genre of dark comedy, offering moments of humour, shock and gloom.

The play is adapted and directed by Rahul Sachdeva, who makes his directorial debut. Trying to be innovative, he incorporates audio-visual elements into the production. It is a two-act play. Different characters are featured in these two acts, with different situations and different moods. This makes the production disjointed. However, the theme of love in both the acts underlines a thin link between the two acts.

In the first act the main characters are two elderly men — one is shy, clumsy, inarticulate and a bachelor, the other vocal, married and self-styled advisor in the matter of love. Jorawar Singh Rathod, the latter considers himself an expert in expressing his love to a woman, and he has married the woman he was in love with. His companion Vallabh Das Vora remained a bachelor because he is a total failure when it comes to conveying his feelings to a woman. Vallabh Das confesses that he loves a widow who is all alone but he is too timid and shy to express his feelings to her. Jorawar sets about giving him lessons so he can win the heart of the widow.

The action is set in the waiting room of a hospital. Both friends are waiting for their pathology test reports, and Vallabh Das goes out to meet the widow who is coming to fetch him in her car. Though equipped with lessons on professing love to the lady, he is nervous and shy but determined. The doctor comes with the medical reports and tells Jorawar the report of one patient is normal and that of another is both bad and good — good because it shows the early stages of prostrate cancer, which is hence curable, bad because after the operation the patient will become impotent.

The first act is slick. There is humour the way the elderly people talk about love. The director has used the element of humour, shock and suspense to engage the audience. The thematic element is superficial and doesn’t expose comically any social vice. However, the individual idiosyncrasies of the two main characters are a source of humour. Alok Jain as Jorawar Singh Rathod and Vivek Srivastava as Vallabh Das Vora contribute to make the evening entertaining.

The second act explores the concept of love and being loved in different social situations and how a man and woman respond to the feeling of love as they grow in age. There are three performers — a policeman, a girl and a boy. The character of the policeman, who acts as a sutradhar, is at once a comic and farcical, and he mostly moves in the auditorium amongst the audience. He invites two members of the audience to act on stage. This device is lively. The two young people on stage play seven characters in seven different situations. They act as children on a playground, adolescents, a young married couple, and finally an old and haggard couple. In all these situations they seem to starve for love, which seems to be a rare emotional element in their prosaic and meaningless lives. The relationship between the male and female figures remains cold, acrimonious and devoid of warmth.

In one of the sequences the wife is full of anguish and aggressively berates her husband for his adultery. There is another scene that reveals the wholly cold relationship between the husband and wife. The Internet age has further ruined their relationship.

In the final scene the man is shown on a wheelchair, an invalid. The woman tries to feed him with a spoon. The question ‘Do you really love me?’ resonates.

The director used the elements of audio-visual to project on screen the death of innocent people by terrorist attacks. He wants to suggest that it is because of terrorism that human life has become devoid of love because humanity lives in terror and uncertainty. An imaginative use of this element would have reinforced the power of the live action on stage, but projecting a number of terrorist attacks overshadows the power of acting and interrupted the rhythm of dramatic action. Moreover, the fear of terrorist attack is one of the many causes of social and spiritual malaise that has prevented humanity from making its life beautiful and enriching it with love.

However, the highlight of the production is the brilliant performances by the cast. Tanuj Potra as the policeman, Kavita Himthani Bhatnagar as the woman, and Shantanu Ghatak make their characters convincing.