“The Secret World Of…” peels away a youngster's mind to untangle his hassles. There are elements of the autobiographical in Zoya's script. A deep disgruntlement she felt in her first year of college transcends to her protagonist Karan.
Growing up is angst-ridden. “The Secret World Of…” pauses on the years where the tug-of-war within is severe, the world beyond you is incompetent and a glorious irreverence defines all. Add to it “pathological lying”, an inability to find your moorings in the real. The demons in your head spew out fictitious beings and the mayhem is complete. For a bit over an hour, “The Secret World Of…”, written and directed by 19-year-old Zoya Hussain dwells on this tumult — physical and psychological. What emerges is reconciliation, a return to the real…in effect, growing up.
However, “The Secret World Of…” staged by Yatrik, is not the typical coming-of-age. It has enough layers to raise it above the simplistic. A ballistic parent and an impudent teenager may be a vital cog to the script, but neither is uni-dimensional. The mother is bearing the burden of a secret, while the son is creating a make-belief world, the raw material drawn from his mother's stories.
There are elements of the autobiographical in Zoya's script. A deep disgruntlement she felt in her first year of college transcends to her protagonist Karan. He goes a step further, stops attending college as he could do everything “smarter and faster” at home. His single mother obviously cannot keep her wits. But she is only part of Karan's problems, for there are characters springing forth in his head. There is his alter ego cajoling him to abandon the real and teasing him to scorn his mother.
Yet when he meets psychologist Sayam bowing to a persistent mother, there are lessons to learn. He goes a long way from “my mother seduced the psychologist and he sued her for extortion” to a realisation that he is “pathological” — lost in the maze of the real and the unreal.
Layers of imagination are slowly peeled away and that's when the story takes its roots. “The Secret World Of…” takes time to grow on you. The sets are sparse, shabby and yearn for a professional touch. A wooden sofa is hurriedly covered with lacklustre green cloth and the domain changes from hospital to home. The fade-outs are too many and mar a smooth narrative. The actors on occasions trip over lines.
“The Secret World Of…” also bears the load of characterisation that leans to caricature. The mother has forgotten to talk without straining her vocal chords and the presumably gay doctor is bogged down by mannerisms. In an attempt to give hints about his sexuality, the director steers towards the obvious and it becomes on-your-face. Yet what is unbridled in actions is quite compensated for in script. There are no overt references in Sayam's dialogues, merely a remark that he wanted to be with his older sisters and “be like them” — a remarkable instance of pregnant, restrained prose.
If the mother meets a pattern, Zoya says it's a rip-off from life. “Especially with mother and son, among guys of my age and where it is a single mom, the environment gets neurotic after a point,” she says.
Despite the storm brewing within, “The Secret World Of…” never slithers down to the dark. A virtue is irreverent dialogues that always bear the potential of humour. A rather snide ‘why are you so quiet' to the psychologist is met with a prompt ‘I am menopausing.' The confusion in the mind never transcends to the dialogues. It is also the cover of humour the gives the relationship between Karan and the fellow patient at the hospital its charm.
For a first time playwright/director who also had to don a significant role as a last-minute replacement, Zoya multi-tasks well. However, she says, it was her choice to direct her script. “As I was writing, I was simultaneously visualising, and if someone else directs, it would be like amputation for me.”