THE UPSHOT

Rangaai Theatre Company makes you hear, feel, smell and listen to three stories in a setting that resembles a photography darkroom. It’s a unique, effective experience.

Director: Tushar Tukaram Dalvi
Language: English, Hindi, Urdu

You watch the first part of the three-story play blindfolded

If you’ve ever wondered whether your other senses are truly sharpened when one of them is incapacitated, the answer is yes. One finds out first hand at Tushar Tukaram Dalvi’s The Darkroom 2.0 – An Immersive Sensory Experience. The performance is a trio of stories of which the first is to be “experienced” blindfolded.

The show starts before you’re even seated. People dressed in dark clothes come up to you tearfully asking for their missing “abu” and asking what a darkroom means. Patrons are blindfolded and led inside a room that smells strongly of incense and roasted potatoes and given a lollipop. (It’s not a welcome gift.)

The story one listens to blindfolded is Saadat Hasan Manto’s Khol Do. Sirajuddin arrives in Lahore on the special train from Amritsar during Partition only to discover that his wife is dead and daughter Sakina is missing. The play begins before you enter the room, as the character of Sakina runs helplessly from person to person, enquiring about her missing father. Voice is used effectively to convey Sirajuddin’s mounting horror as he describes the scenes of the aftermath of Partition vividly. Atmosphere is created by way of ambient sounds such as the train, lorry and crowds conversing. Sakina’s character has no lines but and you feel her presence as she walks by you, her dupatta grazing your skin.

The combination of hearing Sirajuddin’s suffering without being able to see is a queasy feeling. Your imaginations tend to run wild as you picture the scene that’s being verbally painted. The urge to fling off your blindfold to witness what’s happening is quite strong and when you do take off your blindfold, it’s with a sense of relief.

There are sounds, smells and physical contact

While one is kept in the dark for only Khol Do, the aural and olfactory effects continue throughout. The second story is a performance of Premchand’s Kafan. It’s about the father-son duo of Ghisu and Madhav, a couple of lazy, no-good loafers. They sit outside their hut, roasting potatoes (the smell makes you crave the spud) even as Madhav’s wife is languishing inside with acute labour pain. Eventually she dies and the duo set out to beg for alms for her funeral shroud. On the way, they banter about philosophy, god, the best meal they’ve eaten, and eventually, squander the alms on food and liquor. They interact with the audience from time to time, turning them into shopkeepers, zamindars and even fellow beggars.

The hardest hitting piece is Onam, a graphic, disturbing story of child sexual abuse set during the festive season of Onam. (The point of the lollipop is revealed here.) Towards the end of the performance, you’re given a choice – set the caged victim free or attack the perpetrator. How the audience chooses to react marks the end of the performance. This piece employs sound most effectively, with beats of festive music and the the smell of incense, which is associated with prayer, providing a contrast to the young girl’s depressing narrative.