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Kalki Koechlin’s new play, The Living Room, is doing the rounds to much acclaim. Here is a review of this play, where Death visits and wants a nice cup of tea!
Of late, the theatre scene in Ahmedabad is turning out to be vibrant and pulsating. There was a time when the Amdavadi audience craved for good, thought-provoking plays to come and enthral the city. There was a time an interesting play came to Baroda – Gujarat’s cultural capital, only a 100 kilometres away from Ahmedabad, but it never travelled to Ahmedabad.
Times have changed for the good now and over the past one year, Ahmedabad city has been witness to an amazing array of stories presented through drama. From the very radical and unconventional performance by the team of The Vagina Monologues to the very subtle and emotional portrayal of human relationships across the India-Pakistan border brought to fore by Gulzar’s Lakeerein – Lines Drawn Across Borders to a very recent performance on January 22nd, 2016 of Kalki Koechlin’s directorial debut on the stage The Living Room, Ahmedabad is experiencing the best in theatre.
A play on death is the most unexpected theme and performance you would want to watch on a weekend. Leave alone watching a play, how many of us want to think about ‘death’? Death is such an unfriendly subject that most of us either want to avoid talking about it or when we are forced to think about it, it is almost always negative. In a scenario where perceptions about death are clouded with unwanted thoughts and ideas, it is a challenge to portray ‘death’ in a satirical, humorous way to tickle the audience’s funny bone. Indeed, it is a task to get an audience to come and watch a play on death, to let them confront what they have thought is best hidden in the closet.
The Living Room directed by Kalki Koechlin and starring Sheeba Chaddha, Jim Sarbh, Tariq Vasudeva, Neil Bhoopalam tells us the story of death. Not many wish to confront death as a pleasant and eventual reality of life. Will you invite death to come and visit your house as you so happily invite any other guest? Will you give space to death in your living room when it has plans to snatch you away from the possibility of life? The Living Room is a funny take on death and all throughout the performance you cannot help but laugh at death. Sounds strange, right? There is a lighter side to death which the play forces us to think of.
Ana Nil is an old woman quietly resting in her living room when an unknown face enters and tells her that he is ‘death’. Not ready to believe him, Ana assumes that he is a television anchor and a live reality show is being shot in her house. She is happy to be on television but gradually learns that this not at all a show. Death has come to her house as a visitor and her time in the world is now limited. She no longer has control over where she will be the next moment.
As anyone would react, she is at first shocked and continues to behave in utter disbelief. When she learns that Death has come to take her away, she clings on to the illusion called ‘life’. She wants to live; she is reminded of her love affair with Joe, her troubled marriage, her son. It is as if she has all these unfulfilled desires which she wants to give a chance before she leaves the world. And then there is this ‘book’ that death has to abide by. There are scores of names in this book, of people who are to leave the world. But Ana is not ready and Death continues to ask if she is ready to die.
Is death a phenomenon or a person? We only see death as a phenomenon that is meant to scare us. But in the play, death is a person, an average human being who experiences boredom, helplessness at carrying out the same task every day. Death grieves because hundreds of thousands are dying in war, due to disease and violence. Not anyone thinks highly of death. You see it around and hear about it in the newspaper. You feel it is nothing new, yet you are scared of it. You have become immune to it, yet you wish it never touches you. No one has offered Death a cup of tea and when Ana asks if he would like to have one, Death likes the idea. She even offers him some ginger cookies and he happily grabs them. It feels as if Death doesn’t want to go back and execute its routine task, but is enjoying his stay on the earth with tea and ginger cookies to relish!
Aren’t all of us like Death in some way? We always pine for that which doesn’t belong to us. We like to live more in the future, than enjoying the present. In the play, Death presents Ana with a free will clause and she on the spur of the moment wishes for somebody else to die instead of her. That is also what happens to us in life. We are so much in love with ourselves, that we are ready to harm others if presented with the opportunity. As life presents us with dilemmas, so does death.
What happens towards the play’s end is a matter of how the audience perceives it. Such is the beauty of the story that one is able to imagine not just the end but also the beginning of a new inning to life. Death, in itself, is not a static concept. It means innovation and regeneration. For the one who is now not a part of the physical world and for those around him /her who must learn to live a life used to absence. Death uproots us from life, but then it also challenging and comforting in ways that we have not thought of. The Living Room is a brilliantly executed take on how you can think differently about death, how you can laugh at it, enjoy and accept it.
A myriad of emotions are possible in death. But ultimately, it is the ‘inevitable’. How about embracing it with a nice cup of tea and some ginger cookies!
Image source: the grim reaper by Shutterstock.
Nidhi Shendurnikar is an independent researcher based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. She has a Ph.D
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