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‘The Darkroom 2.0’: The smell and sound of dark tales

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-06-2017 Pooja Singh

You are blindfolded and led to a seat. The aroma of burning incense sticks and the smell of sindoor in the air hits you. Once you have been seated, you are given a lollipop. You can hear some whispering in Bengali in the background. You wonder if you should react, or sit quietly. A few minutes later, the blindfold is removed and you find yourself sitting in a darkroom meant for developing photographs.

Welcome to The Darkroom 2.0, an experimental retelling of four stories by the Mumbai-based Rangaai Theatre Company, which attempts to portray the dark and twisted times we live in. It will be presented this weekend in Mumbai.

The 2-hour, 15-minute staging will begin with the enactment of Durga Poojo, a story by an anonymous writer who shares a personal account of child abuse at the hands of a kaka (uncle). “The incense sticks and the sindoor create a sense of Durga Puja celebrations, the time around which the story is based.

“Each story in this production has a smell to go with it,” says Tushar Dalvi, who has conceptualized and directed The Darkroom 2.0, adding, “The lollipop is actually symbolic of the sweets the paedophile kaka used to lure young girls (with).”

Through this story, Dalvi wants to revive French playwright Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. “Theatre of cruelty is a genre that aims to shock, unsettle, anger and disgust the audience; it’s not usually seen on stage. It’s high on sexual aggression and bloodshed,” he says. Towards the end of the 20-minute performance by two actors, the audience will be asked to participate, with a question being posed to them: What would they like to do first, beat up the kaka or save the girls he has trapped?

Hindi writer Munshi Premchand’s Kafan, the story of a poverty-stricken father-son duo so consumed by greed that they ignore the pain of a pregnant family member, will be next. “This will be presented in the dastangoi storytelling form, minus the traditional attire, with the smell of cooked potatoes engulfing the room (the duo used to steal potatoes from the fields of fellow villagers to feed themselves),” says Dalvi, who will be one of the two narrators of this story.

The audience is blindfolded before entering the performance space.

The third story, Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai’s satire Lihaaf, will be staged in the form of shadow theatre, with the smell of ittr in the air. The story is about an eight-year-old’s discovery of the lesbian relationship between her aunt and her masseuse.

The final presentation will be Saadat Hasan Manto’s Khol Do, about a father who has lost his daughter during Partition. “It is a monologue which starts with BBC clippings of speeches by (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah and (Jawaharlal) Nehru, and images of people travelling by train and of those who died during Partition,” says Dalvi. As for the smell: “We burn chicken bones, along with cow-dung cakes, over coal to create the smell of death,” he says. 

The underlying theme across all four stories: “The struggles girls and women in our society go through. Incest, sexual abuse, indifference, apathy—it’s all happening in our society, whether or not we admit it. We are trying to show our audience the darker side of society through The Darkroom 2.0, by engaging all the senses,” says Dalvi.

The Darkroom 2.0 will be presented on 24 June, 6pm, at Studio Tamaasha, Versova, and 25 June, 7pm, at The Mumbai Assembly, Bandra. Tickets, Rs500 (Saturday) and Rs350 (Sunday), available on in.bookmyshow.com

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