Theatre

When you have death as visitor

Kalki (centre) and her actors

Kalki (centre) and her actors  

more-in

Kalki Koechlin’s play The Living Room picks up an interesting subject, but decides to take a detour along the way

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?

Edgar Allan Poe

Like David Guttman writes in his work, “Finding Meaning in Life…”, the mystery of death has always been the subject of literature, cinema and music. In fact, the fantastic Czech writer Milan Kundera devotes an entire book, “Immortality” to this subject. Guttman recalls an interesting conversation between the philosopher Goethe and writer Ernest Hemingway, “human beings know they are mortals, know there is death, and nevertheless they are unable to accept it, to understand it, and to behave accordingly. A human being does not know how to be mortal or how to become dead.”

The Living Room, a play written and directed by Kalki Koechlin, which premiered at Ranga Shankara last week, ruminates on death and briefly touches upon issues that Guttman and Kundera deal with. The initial moments of the play, opens to a Bergmanian drama — in its philosophical tone, the texture and use of colours. Ana Nil, in whose living room the play unfolds, finds herself in conversation with this person who she assumes is a television anchor and is playing the role of ‘death’. She imagines there is a secret camera and begins a conversation with him. During its initial part, the play opens up to great possibilities – the presence of death in our living rooms, the overlapping nature of life and death, about the invisible violence that television (reality shows) forces upon us continuously altering the way we perceive things, and how, even one is confronted with the real, it is seen as less than real. By the very nature of the plot itself, the play acquires a surreal quality; Ana clinging to temptations of life even when confronted by death, and Death’s (Mr. Yamir) own reflections of its loss of dignity in the face of war and calamity, so on and so forth.

Just when the play begins to warm up to meaning, it consciously decides to give it up. To put it in Kalki’s own words, “I didn’t want to make it very philosophical. I am touching on the aspects of life and death and making it more comical.” What however follows in the ‘comical’ part is the stereotype of comedy -- a series of silly confusions and an edgy, high-pitched hamming match. The play by now has lost its grip over the plot, and also the idea of comedy. The stage gets busy with boyfriend, godson and a doctor, but neither does the plot get thicker nor meaning. One is best left to reading through suggestion – there is a raging storm outside, and by implication, one has to understand there’s a storm inside as well.

The extensive use of the colour red, black and blue in the play, in fact, guides you to the idea of death that is inherently Christian, paradoxically juxtaposed with an unauthentic image of the Hindu god of death, Yama (Mr. Yamir). This however, maybe a matter of pure convenience, and doesn’t seem to have a greater plan in terms of the play’s intent. The twist comes in its climax. The entire play is a play within a play with Dr. Zeus and his assistant Yamir playing out the game of death before Ana, for a larger psychological purpose.

The chaos ends, the mess is cleared, Dr. Zeus asks his assistant Yamir to work better, the clock is reset to what it was in the beginning, Ana goes back to sleep, and Yamir takes his position again. The entire game begins, yet another time. Is it death, is it sleep, is it god, is it human drama… you can find different ways to understand the ending. But none of the interpretations heightens the experience of the play itself.

Music for the play was hauntingly beautiful, lighting and sound design very competent. Each of the actors played their roles to near perfection. It could have been a better play though, if only the temptation to be clever was resisted.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 12:17:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/kalki-koechlins-play-the-living-room/article7481527.ece

Next Story