The Darkroom Project: A performance that taps into your hidden emotions

Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai
Jun 25, 2016 06:40 PM IST

The Darkroom Project is an experimental retelling of five dark stories using elements of shadow theatre, photography, and techniques from the Theatre of Cruelty

The Darkroom Project is an experimental retelling of five dark stories using elements of shadow theatre, photography, and techniques from the Theatre of Cruelty.

A scene from Khol Do
A scene from Khol Do

Once you enter Andheri Base, you are blindfolded and led to your seat. Along the way, you smell a distinct aroma of something cooking. Walk a bit ahead and you are handed a lollipop. If that isn’t bizarre enough, once the blindfold is removed, you notice that the room is swathed in red light and there are photographs hanging off wires. You have effectively entered a photographic darkroom.

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A scene from Khol Do (Rangaai Theatre)
A scene from Khol Do (Rangaai Theatre)

What follows is the staging of five acclaimed plays that highlight issues pertaining to women’s subjugation. Premchand’s short story Kafan revolves around two insensitive men who ignore the screams of a family member in labour, while Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story Khol Do highlights the trauma of Partition as a father searches for his missing daughter. The satirical play Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai is about an eight-year-old’s discovery of the lesbian relationship between her aunt and her masseuse, while The Little Match-Girl by Hans Christian Andersen is about a dying girl’s last aspirations. The fifth tale Durga Poojo is based on a true story of surviving incest.

This is the gist of The Darkroom Project, an experimental production by the city-based Rangaai Theatre Company. Conceptualised by Tushar Dalvi, who is also directing the production, and Kiran Pavaskar, this is Rangaai’s first production.

A scene from Durga Poojo (Rangaai Theatre)
A scene from Durga Poojo (Rangaai Theatre)

The project is inspired by the minimal theatrical productions I have viewed as a member of the Newcastle Youth Theatre in Scotland. “Some of the performances were held in spaces like parking lots with few props,” recalls director Tushar Dalvi. While it ensures that such plays can be staged even in limited spaces, it also makes the experience more intimate. “People can connect with what’s happening on stage, observe the cast’s expressions — their imagination comes to play,” says Dalvi.

Read: Mumbai’s eateries, pubs and libraries turn into performance spaces

With this production, Dalvi is also trying to revive Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Artaud was a French playwright who believed in shocking the audience to help them experience subconscious emotions. “Theatre of Cruelty features content that is high on sexual aggression and bloodshed, and incites emotions like disgust that are not usually seen on stage. All the stories are bold, dark, and for an adult audience,” adds Dalvi. Apart from that, Dalvi has explored elements of shadow theatre (Lihaaf features a play on light and shadow) and puppetry (The Little Match-Girl features a life-sized puppet made using PVC pipes and a mop brush).

The shadow act of Lihaaf (Rangaai Theatre)
The shadow act of Lihaaf (Rangaai Theatre)

The Darkroom Project takes its title from the once-ubiquitous photography laboratories where negatives were developed into photographs. “I spotted similarities between the process of printing photos and storytelling, and have tapped into them,” he says, adding, “For instance — dodging refers to the selective blocking of light to a certain area on the photo paper. That translates on stage during Kafan, when there is no movement on stage except for the narrator and the characters are nowhere to be seen. Burning is the opposite of dodging and involves extra lights to add brightness to a section of the image. Similarly, certain stories are presented by using extra gimmicks such as a life-sized puppet instead of a real child actor in The Little Match-Girl or the use of shadows in Lihaaf.”

Dalvi admits that with the onset of digital photography, the darkroom is slowly becoming obsolete. So, at the beginning of the play, he is distributing handouts with a basic description of the darkroom and its processes.

The Darkroom Project will be staged on June 26, 6.30pm
At: Whistling Woods Andheri Base, Sharyans-Audeus, Hard Rock Café, Link Road, Andheri (W)
Call: 3091 6003
Tickets: Rs 300

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    Soma is an Assistant Editor for the weekend supplement HT 48 Hours. She writes on lifestyle, art and culture.

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