Hidden in Plain Sight throws light on the loneliness that technology induces

Communication is an imperfect science, declares the Mailer Daemon who is condemned to “speak into emptiness for all eternity”. A nameless lonely woman confined to her apartment and constantly thinking of dying says, “Time is long. Would it have been shorter just to have lived?” On an impulse she calls an acquaintance, Sandhya, who is in Uttarakashi, but the link snaps midway through the conversation. Sandhya loses her GPS in the Bhagirathi and struggles to find her direction with a compass. Mrs Raghuraman fails to send a message to her cheating husband, throws a kitty party and loses her head.

The script of Hidden in Plain Sight directed by Ram Ganesh Kamatham and devised by him and actor Mallika Prasad is packed with fragments and disruptions, reflecting a world where people are over-dependent on technology, hyper-connected in cyberspace and delinked in real life.

If you’ve watched Mallika Prasad on stage before this, her hour-long solo at Jagriti last weekend would have confirmed your opinion of her as a pro. Body, voice and movement danced with the text as she stepped and sometimes neatly (and literally) somersaulted from one character to the next.

She invested every word with meaning through her effective pauses and voice modulation. However, parts of the last two segments were barely audible, perhaps a result of her merging too closely with the character and forgetting she had an audience, a tendency I noticed in her 2007 performance in Kamatham’s Creeper as well.

The script is taut, highly condensed, often poetic, and tinged with humour. Here’s Sandhya 14,000 ft high, visualising what might happen while Shiva with his “fat techie belly” is climbing towards her: “One foot in front of the next. One foot. Next. Laces untied. Slip twist slide fall splat.”

When the emptiness occasionally speaks back to the Mailer Daemon it could be “exploding out of a broken syllable half sound half silence searching for a home”. Kamatham’s potshots at social media and the "stupid wage slavery" of the techie are familiar.

Many of his plays, staged and un-staged, contain acidic references to the software industry, media and management (Wanker, Dancing on Glass, Body Language and Slide for example), and since he has worked briefly in a corporate firm, his is an insider’s view.

There was some visual and verbal confusion, though. Were there four women or five? The bosomy woman in the red silk sari who makes a grand entrance and, in a perfect example of eloquent wordless communication, plays with the audience, emoting purely through suggestive looks and gestures — she’s an old-time actress, right?

Even if we take Kamatham’s weird imagination for granted, can this faded diva also be “Mr Raghuraman’s wife, who works in a bank”, or is that the wife of Mr Raghuraman who works in a bank? It is hard to imagine a more upper-class woman; she’s hardly the bank employee type. That accent didn’t sound like it belonged to a woman who makes idlis, packs lunch for her husband, has her afternoons to herself — clearly, she is no employee of any sort — but whoa! She’s suddenly back to being a seductive actress of yesteryear.

Perhaps ‘bank employee’ no longer means what it did in the past, a middle class pen-pusher pondering the VRS option.

Perhaps Mr Raghuraman is the chairman of a foreign bank, who fell in love with a former star. When the sari comes off Mallika she is, in black tights and with or without the blue scarf, the Daemon, Sandhya or the suicidal woman. But the first time we meet the Daemon she is still in the red sari, so it takes a while to figure her out.

A low-tech era was conveyed through hanging props — an album cover containing an L P, yards of unspooled cassette tape, and what appeared to be a model of an analogue watch but stood for a compass — and that evocative ditty from the school playground: “I wrote a letter to my father, on the way I dropped it, the postman came and picked it up...” In the play, letters and poems starkly contrast the infinite emptiness of cyberspace.