Because life's like that

Updated: Mar 14, 2019, 08:10 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Quasar Thakore-Padamsee's new play about a family with a depressed member is a heart-warming departure from the conventional portrayal of mental health and focuses instead on the everyday things that make life beautiful

Because life's like that
The play is a one-act performance with Vivek Madan (in checks) as the protagonist. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

A seven-year-old settles into the front seat of the car as his father readies to drive him to the hospital. His mother "did something stupid", he is told on the way. The little boy tries to fathom the words and the sight of his depressed mother lying in the hospital bed after a suicide attempt. "Mum finds it hard to be happy," the child gathers, and to help her, he starts drawing up a list — of every brilliant thing in life. Ice creams. Pillow fights. Gully cricket. The colour yellow. People falling over... The list expands as the years pass by, its entries reflecting the turn of events in the life of the protagonist.

A rehearsal in progress at an alternative theatre space in Versova
A rehearsal in progress at an alternative theatre space in Versova

Theatre director Quasar Thakore-Padamsee remembers the night in 2016 when he read Every Brilliant Thing by British playwright Duncan Macmillan and comedian Jonny Donahoe. "It is an incredibly uplifting story about a topic that not many people talk about. It is a serious, delicate subject, but the way in which it has been presented is so wonderfully light. It is a story that needed to be told, in the way that it has been told, and that locked it for me," says Quasar, as he and theatre actor-director Vivek Madan, who plays the protagonist, take a break from a rehearsal. The QTP production premieres next Tuesday in Mumbai.

The rehearsal we have come to attend at OverAct in Versova is the third phase of sessions that have been on since January, two of which were held at Shoonya, another experimental theatre space in Bengaluru, where Vivek is based. "The sporadic sessions were very new for us. But they allowed breathing room and there have been so many fresh inputs that have come in at every stage of the rehearsal by virtue of time, and change of location and city. There are mundane things that you don't think would affect a play, but they do," Vivek shares, as he recalls the intriguing pitch Quasar initially made to him. "He said to me, 'There is no acting in this play. There is no artifice. We just have to experience your story; people who don't know you, must think it's your story. People who know you feel surprised that they didn't know this about you'."

The original script, in fact, has notes instructing the director about how the play needs to tell the story of the place where it is staged. Which is why, for instance, one finds freshly made payasam on the list of brilliant things. And the description of the house in which the family lives is one Vivek's childhood Bengaluru home. But that apart, Quasar calls the story an intrinsically Indian one. "These are problems we see around us all the time. We don't talk about our infirmities, we brush them under the carpet, we don't communicate to our children what's going on," he points out.

Among other things about the play that called out to Quasar was the writing itself. "What I found remarkable about Macmillan is his attention to language. There are a lot of 'issue-based plays' that end up being only about the issue. The disservice they do to the issue then is it ends up being seen in isolation, detached from life. This play is about coping; living with it," he says. Vivek agrees. "It's the sort of story which takes the attention away from the subject matter, which is not a very happy one, and makes it hopeful. The enduring search of the character in the play and the enduring vibe in it is one of hope and joy."

Quasar Thakore-Padamsee
Quasar Thakore-Padamsee

Though enacted by one artiste, the play draws in the audience throughout, calling for their engagement at several crucial turns in the plot — a quality Quasar attributes to a comedian being roped in to co-write the play. During rehearsal, for instance, Vivek turns to us, asking if we would like to play his schoolteacher. There is an impromptu conversation that flows, giving the play a unique subplot that would have been different had the actor spoken to another member in the audience. "It's a lovely metaphor in the way the play has been created. Because without the audience, I cannot tell the story. And without a support system, you cannot cope [with a mental health condition]," Vivek shares.

A support system by creating a safe space to talk about mental health is what the duo hope to create through the play. "Mental health is coming to the fore; partly because we are talking about it, and partly because of our lifestyle where we are struggling with this rapid pace of life," Quasar remarks. "During every run, we plan to hold a panel discussion because what is the point of a play that cannot continue the conversation? On the opening night, there will be experts talking about signs to look out for, coping and dealing with mental health concerns. The play has to be a conduit for that; it cannot be an end in itself."

On: March 19, 7 pm; March 20 and 21, 6.30 pm and 9 pm (for ages 14 and above)
At: Prithvi Theatre, Juhu.
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Entry: Rs 175 onwards

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