Attempting serious theater in Hyderabad is probably not a very good idea, but
doing it amateurishly is most definitely a bad idea. Manjula Padmanabhan wouldn't
have liked the version of her play "Lights Out" performed by the Torn Curtains
last night at the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton.
"Lights Out" is a play about a woman Leela driven to hysteria by loud screams echoing right outside her window. Leela wants the voices to stop and begs her husband, Bhaskar, to call the police. Bhasker seems very sure the police won't bother, and asks Leela to do it herself. As they speak, you realize that the screams and the voices have been a daily feature in their evenings for the past few weeks, which the couple seems to have done nothing about.
Enter Mohan, a friend of Bhaskar, who finds the entire episode fascinating. As the three discuss the nature of the screaming, you begin to get faint clues as to what "it" could be. The men think it could be a religious ritual, and the more they think about it, the more convinced they are that it is, in fact, a religious ceremony of some kind. Leela just wants that the voices never bother her again.
It is when the screams begin - loud, painful and definitely disturbing - that you begin to sense Leela's mounting panic. The two men look out of the window and Mohan is held rapt by the spectacle outside. That's when Leela decides it's time for dinner, and as they begin to eat, the doorbell rings to admit Naina, Leela's friend. Naina hears the voices and looks out of the window despite protests from the men, and what she sees repels and shocks her entire being. That's when the audience can be sure of what "it" is - a woman is being raped outside Bhasker and Leela's window.
The rest of the play showcases how the characters (including Naina's husband, Surinder, who joins them) deal with the situation. "Lights Out" is supposed to throw light (forgive the pun) on the sense of disconnection and indifference felt by the urban elite towards reality.
A strong script managed to keep the actors afloat, but they seemed to need frequent and loud prompting to keep their act from falling apart. The performances were loud, half-hearted and self-conscious, with the actors stumbling and fumbling for words. Insipid and uninspired narration at the beginning and the end of the play made things worse.
The audience belonged, not unsurprisingly, to the very section of the society that the play condemned, and there was a lukewarm and even confused applause at the closing. There was also no curtain call, which was an unpleasant break from routine theater. The late start and a really long break in between could have been avoided.
For lack of good things to say, we'll just say that we really appreciate the attempt, if not its result. Here's wishing Torn Curtains better luck next time.
Cast: Gururaj, Madhu Swaminathan, Firasat Ali Khan, Bhulakshmi, Rohit Saridena, Rashmi Sharma
Director: Vaishali Bisht
Prompter: Vijetri Arora
Written by: Manjula Padmanabhan