In a society that is struggling with alienation and violence, how does a child survive? This was the question that prompted the late Bengali writer, Nabarun Bhattacharya, to write Toy, a short story about a boy and the imaginary world he creates for himself in his aquarium. It is a question that also resonated with Kolkata-based playwright Himadri Sekhar Dey, who has adapted Bhattacharya’s story for the stage.
Although simple in its premise, the play, Toy, asks probing questions about the pressures that today’s generation faces. “People have to deal with immense difficulties and stress,” says Dey, adding, “Nuclear families are the new norm, political systems are deteriorating and culture tendencies are evolving — all these break down societal bonds. The younger generation is feeling increasingly isolated, and inferior standards of education are making matters worse.”
The play is also tinged with an element of the macabre. “Given these feelings of loneliness and rootlessness, how can one be a good person? This is the question Toy struggles with. In this kind of society, there is an attraction to violence. A child will play at being a butcher or an assassin”, says Dey. “This is not a phenomenon that is specific to India; it is universal,” he adds. Debobrata Banerjee, the play’s director, says that youngsters often resort to violence as a way to get both attention and claim their own voice. “Children are always being told what to do by their parents, teachers and the rest of society, most of whom have diseased mentalities and corrupt beliefs,” he adds.
Nostalghia, a 1983 Russian/Italian film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, is another influence for the play. The Soviet-era movie also examines feelings of alienation and an absence of spirituality. Toy, like Nostalghia, is also visually captivating. “The magic reality in the play is fascinating,” says Dey.
Toy will be performed at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai, today at 9pm.