Theatre

‘The internet never forgets’

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Neel Chaudhuri critiques the impact of social media on our lives in his play Quicksand

In Quicksand, a man and a woman, strangers to each other, meet in an airport. That leads to a social media trial that has an irreversible effect on their lives. The powerful plot has the playwright Neel Chaudhuri, and actors devising an analytical and a well-researched story around the impact of social media on our lives and relationships. The play will be staged in Bengaluru at Jagriti Theatre, Whitefield. Neel, an award-winning playwright, talks about the creative process of the play and offers an analysis on the irreversible role of social media.

Is Quicksand based on a true story?

One of my actors brought an incident to my notice. It occurred between a college student in Delhi, who was also a volunteer for a prominent political party, and a man who was riding a motorcycle. An altercation had occurred between them, and the girl posted a photo on Facebook. The speed with which the internet picked up the story had an effect on both their lives. The Facebook post didn’t just get the attention of regular people, but celebrities, and even a politician. Nobody had expected that level of virality. The man was arrested and the girl became an overnight celebrity. As the case proceeded, it took on this duality in how it shifted positions. What was of interest to me was the impact of the case on their lives, to their respective worlds, and to each other.

What research did you do for the play?

I interviewed both the girl and the man, and others who were shamed on social media, like Gurmehar Kaur. I looked into how insidiously social media affected their lives. How they were protagonists in their own stories, but had little control over them. We did a lot of research. The actors and I also met people active on social media, trolls et al.

Why did you name the play Quicksand?

There is a myth about the quicksand that you drown in it. You actually get stuck in it, and the more you try to wriggle out, the more you get stuck in it. Being caught in a viral social media post is like being stuck in quicksand. When you try to make a comment to explain yourself, you get trapped even more.

How do you engage with social media?

I keep a relatively safe distance from it. I use Facebook for completely professional reasons. But I also use it enough to observe things that happen on it.

How does social media impact our lives and relationships?

Social media encourages certain behaviour, but it is only an apparatus. It is not the apparatus that is at fault, but how people use it. Therefore, what does social media enable? It enables anonymity, it enables velocity of action, there is an irreversibility to the internet, the internet, so to speak, doesn’t forget. Jon Ronson in his book You’ve Been Publicly Shamed likens what happens in social media to public shaming during medieval times. What is common between both is the pressure of participation, sometimes we shout with the crowd or throw a stone and feel we have done justice. Social media feeds back into our ego. It gives us validation. I also think there is a facile separation between the real and virtual world. I think it is a separation between the physical and non-physical worlds. I also find the internet very performative. People can purport to be anybody in how they represent their politics and how happy or sad they are.

How is the process from getting an idea, writing the play, and translating the story onto stage?

We cast the play before anything is done. Two actors play the central role and two others play everyone else. I got the idea in 2015. I did research and some interviews. Then my actors and I went into a month-long workshop, we devised dialogues, and wondered how we can bring a non-physical entity like the internet onto stage.

Quicksand, a Tadpole Repertory production, will be staged from February 23 to February 25. Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm and 6.30 pm. The play is 90 minutes long without an intermission. The cast includes Kriti Pant, Devika Rajpal, Neel Sengupta and Pranjal Vaid. Age restriction: For ages 15 and above. Tickets are available on bookmyshow.com and at the box office.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 7:48:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/the-internet-never-forgets/article22825466.ece

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