Review: Free Outgoing

Anupama Chandrashekhar’s play Free Outgoing played at Ranga Shankara this past weekend. The cast of 7 actors from Chennai and Bangalore were directed by esteemed director Mahesh Dattani. It had been a very long time since I had seen a social drama, especially one in English, and especially one based in South Indian Chennai.

10392584_10152967250245042_2592613542958438467_nThe play runs more than an hour and centers around the life of a single mother whose life orbits around her children. She works two jobs to make ends meet and has mundane concerns about water shortage, exam scores of her children and her life is on a go go go pace. At the start of the play, her biggest concern is the performance of her son Sharath who is not matching up by any accounts to the over achieving daughter Deepa, who also has focused ambitions of becoming a doctor. Nothing amiss than the plot in any middle class family. But life falls apart.

Deepa becomes the centre of attention of the whole nation when the video of her being intimate with her boyfriend makes the rounds as an MMS. Soon, she is expelled, her brother too a day later and all are bound to each other in a house arrest, and the house begins to tear apart from within. The focus is on how a mother tries to keep her family intact in the sensless swirl of events that follow, judgements that are dealt and the loss of dignity.

unnamedPallavi MD as Malini the mother, held the play together with her performance. She and the actor playing Sharath were the two reasons why the play is watchable. Pallavi’s performance was captivating and very energetic and was brilliant in the scene where she sees her daughter’s mms video. But apart from those two actors, the play was disappointing. At best the treatment of the play was TV Soap Opera-ish with blame being pushed at one person or the other for the issue. To engage in this meant to hear the pleas of a mother for fairness, a negotiation for survial of a family but the silence of Deepa. This is why the content of the play fails for me – where it loses the plot according to me. Let me explain.

Teenagers desire freedom from their adolescent life, they are always trying to push the boundaries set around them about what is acceptable or not. Negotiating, taking risks come naturally to them. Deepa is no different than any other teenager. She engages in a sexual act with her friend and believes she has the anonymity of one of the many teenagers who are doing the same. Only her privacy is violated. Reminded me of Tylor Clementi who jumped the George Washington Bridge after his roomate captured him being intimate with his male friend in a webcam.

Society behaves rigid and inimical as shown by the moralistic teacher, the father of Deepa’s lover, the neighbour. What is disappointing is so does Malini. It feels like Anupama Chandrashekhar pays homage to the tv dramas of the 70s and the 80s. Who cares about Deepa? There is this whole, bitterly familiar. “Oh we am  victims, we were violated boo-hoo” by Malini where she does not even listen to the suggestions of her son to address the press with some inner strength – some transformation. What is disappointing is that, Anupama may be portraying this as what happens in real life, her play does not even attempt to show an engagement in a different solution. There must be another way. One wonders why she did not even attempt to interpret this situation as someone who lives in this day and age through the voice of someone closer to her age.  May be the repeated pleas from Sharat to Malini to address the press, to not back down, was the other voice inside Anupama begging for a different solution – she quells it repeatedly through Malini.

For one thing, it was the plot, for the other, it was the long scene changes and the music that made the play hard to sit through. If the audience was engaged, it was to see the performance ability of Pallavi MD who mostly held the whole play on her shoulders.

unnamed1When the lights came up at the end of Free Outgoing, one was left shaking their head in sheer disappointment. May be the playwright wanted Deepa’s silence to bother us, to anger us, to provoke us. But to what? You ask a close ended question and mumble an answer – an apology – making Malini the Martyr and Deepa the fallen daughter.  An older theatre veteran was unforgiving in her comments, when she said, “Why did that Deepa not kill herself… at least that would have been some drama.”

May be another competitor team can reinterpret this differently. I am sure it is permissible in theatre.

Review: Keep Calm and #ashtag

Play: Keep Calm and #ashtag

I liked the play and its energy, the actors did a great job. I liked how the narratives were woven and interlocked into each others in a way that made the horror of your life being played out in a public portal more real and gritty.

As I sat watching this,  kept going back to how virtual world is a safe + unsafe (still one goes back to it) refuge and identity for many students.  An easy refuge – from where one develops an identity of who we are in front of a willing audience of those who may be privy and needy to every minute detail of your life as you are open to sharing. Where identity is shaped perhaps on the approving -like or disapproving comments of someone out there.

The part that struck me is that the people who approve or not are easily deceived anyway. (Who says that what we show on a platform is what we are really? Reminded me of Lady Gaga and the essay – LadyGaga and the Remaking of Celebrity Culutre.  So where is the desire to develop an identity from them coming from? This was very interesting for me – that self contentment comes from social approval… a sort of ultimate self deception that really is exhausting.

Another part that I found very evocative was the part about the girl who not just has to confirm to all the demands of society but also has to look pleasant and pleasing about it. It was really moving. I wondered about social media again in this struggle of both young boys and girls and how even their parents / significant others (as I have seen) can be restricted from participating in their real feelings thanks to social media. Am wondering about the balance therefore between safe/unsafe, supportive/supportive and private and public experiences for people.
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I also found the narrative of the boy getting beaten by bully/thugs in the love letter- a little alien to our collective experience, and may be perceived as forced in the story. However, videos and stories going viral are experiences that students face. Instances can be of students taking videos of friends sleeping in not so favourable places, or as newspapers videos that have gone viral are of people in the privacy of changing rooms.

As a teacher I feel that this reaches students in the age range of  16 -18 – students in + 2 classes. Knowing some of the kids I work with, I feel this age group will be very receptive to the play and be a part of a dynamic discussion. Also, while I could see most of the play, I could not catch the bits on the floor because of the seating. Can I suggest a seating change for the audience? I am sure this is nothing big!

Since the play goes through different themes, and ideas it would be good for the play to be tried with a complete resource pack and elicit a consensus from the teachers on what themes they might be open to discussing or not – or the whole thing. Each classroom will have some pertaining issues that may come up and this allows for a preemptive thought on the same from all significant parties involved in the viewing.