FRIDAY REVIEW

The art of living

Truth Hurts “As the Sun Sets” peals away human relationships.

Truth Hurts “As the Sun Sets” peals away human relationships.  

NANDINI NAIR

“As the Sun Sets” deals with a terrifying topic with honesty and sensitivity.

“As the Sun Sets”, centres around illness, death and estrangement, yet it succeeds in being enlightening rather then depressive. Presented by The Hungry Heart and Class Apart Productions in aid of HelpAge India, it spans generations to reveal the love and loathing in a family.

Directed by Smita Bharti and Swaroopa Ghosh, the play was staged at India Habitat Centre recently. The acting is very honest. The actors succeed in portraying a variety of emotions, from abject loss to impotent fury to complete surrender. With only a six-member cast, each character is well fleshed out.

The relationship between mother (Sakina) and daughter (Sammy) (played by Prabha Tonk and Shena Gamat) is clearly fraught from the start. Viraj (played by Jasbir Malik) initially has to battle with the loss of his friends. But a much greater fight awaits him. And that’s a losing battle with his own mortality as he is diagnosed with prostrate cancer. “As the Sun Sets”, is a heartfelt account of the struggles of a family, when a member is diagnosed with a terminal disease.

Moving

Viraj’s wife Sakina’s realisation and reluctant acceptance of the disease is very moving. However, Sammy’s first intimation of her father’s disease leaves the audience unaffected. This scene could have been better handled. Brian Martin as Doc Jollay has the sturdiness of a doctor. But at times, this same sturdiness veers into near patronising. Viraj’s own fluctuations between moments of sheer frustration and the resolution to live life to the fullest, hurts the audience as it is that truthful.

The scene when domestic help Lallu (Ashish Dharmadhikari) and Viraj look at old photographs is light and poignant. The old photos help to give the characters a life beyond stage. It changes them from actors to people. The play becomes a reality in the argument between husband and wife. They bicker about what is right and what one wants. Viraj wants to indulge in butter and sugar but Sakina fights to keep him away from it. “You are so focused on keeping me alive,” he reminds her, “That you forget I am alive.” Viraj’s dialogues are especially insightful and even beautiful. He chastises his wife, “I’m so angry with you. You make it so hard for me to die.” Viraj articulates the fears of all patients, and that is the fear of indignity and of losing one’s self respect.

The strength of the play is that it exposes different attitudes towards a family member’s death. While Sakina prepares for it, Sammy refuses to accept it and Viraj’s sister Vishesh (Anjali Nayar) barely seems to understand it.

The death of Viraj acts as a breaking point between mother and daughter. Sammy spews hatred on her mother with frightening ferocity. It is intelligently woven in that Sammy is venting the loss of her son on Sakina. Yet there just seems to be too much hate. The accusations and defences between mother and daughter do however get tiresome after a while. Their differences are of course finally resolved. The resolution however is rather perfunctory in contrast to the enmity, which seems over emphasised.

Certain effects would have been best avoided. A background score of heartbeats is rather too un-subtle even for a play that deals with death. While some of the Punjabi jokes were excellent, Punjabi-English has become passé after “Mind your Language”.

But in all, it’s a play that moves both heart and intellect, and kudos to that.



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