Perched atop a deserted office terrace on a Christmas night in Mumbai, a group of suicidal people, in what may appear a play by destiny, bump into each other. There’s a former athlete, who was once set to compete in the Olympics, before life took a different turn and handed him a prosthetic leg. There’s a gay man, fed up of being ostracised for his sexual identity; an old man, once a famous actor, but now senile and living with incontinence; and a woman, physically abused by her partner, and slut-shamed for sleeping with multiple men. Each of them decide to tell their life stories at this chance meeting in Piyali Dasgupta’s play Suicide Note. The play that aims to destigmatise mental health premiered in the capital yesterday.
Presented by the Bengali theatre group Dhumketu, the play is riddled with statistics. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, India has the sixth-highest female suicide death rates in the world; and more than one lakh people have committed suicide every year, over the last decade. Director-playwright Dasgupta, 40, having gone through depressive and suicidal thoughts herself at one point, researched on the state of mental health in the country before deciding the characters. “We stigmatise people with mental health, for instance, those suffering from bipolar disorder. We don’t look at their right to work, live, earn, have a family or freedom. All of that gets compromised. There is this whole need to be normal, which is a very overrated word. We all feel it, one can feel depressed and one cannot feel depressed. It’s not constant and happens to all of us. The whole thing of peer group support, talking and listening to each other, human touch, the counselling part of it, the steps that help one process and overcome these thoughts, is what the play speaks about,” she says.
The play is not performed on stage but within the space laid out for the audience, to make the characters — who have no names since it is “everybody’s story” — feel closer to them. Hiya Mukherjee plays the role of the young woman and confides in the once-Olympic aspirant, performed by Seshadri Mitra: “Men sleep with many women and are called power magnets but a woman sleeping with multiple partners is called a bitch. Women having their own rights and physical desires, at her own terms and conditions — the world is not ready for such a revolution.” Hailing from Kolkata, theatre actor and kathak dancer Mitra, 23, currently working as a copy writer with an advertising agency, dreamt of being a cricketer himself when he was in eighth standard but gave up the dream after seeing the injustice in the selection process. He says he didn’t find it difficult to bring the athlete’s real emotions on stage. Mohammad Mustafa Raza blooms in the role of a gay man. He says, “Main mard hoon, main mard ko maar sakta hoon, lekin mard ko pyaar nahi kar sakta (I am a man, I can hit a man, but I cannot love a man).”
Surrounded by alcohol, women and drugs, 47-year-old Sarbasis Shorba Bhattacharya plays a megastar, armed with a cigar and cowboy hat, who slowly loses his roles due to old age, and is engulfed by loneliness. Bhattacharya says, “The subject is topical and I see this happening all around me. I know of people who have committed suicide and those who attempted it and failed. The reason I agreed to do this play is because it raises questions out in the open and pushes people to discuss and debate on these issues.” Another actor in the play revealed how she had once struggled with suicidal thoughts herself.
Fed up of his life and its challenges, an army man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder rings in his arrival at the end of the over hour-long play. The inspiration for the character struck Dasgupta when she visited the Line of Control last year and met Indian soldiers there. “There was this army major stationed at a barrack almost 100m from who were supposedly Pakistani personnel. He told me that he was never at rest and always slept with his gun and shoes on. He said one gets a lot of clarity on life there. What is insignificant goes away, only what is relevant remains. They think about people they love, being healthy and being able to see and feel.”
The play is at Chittaranjan Bhavan, CR Park, Delhi, today at 7.30 pm. Entry free.