“The internet is what has brought together whole communities of queer people over the past decade, to thrive together, as well as mourn together,” believes playwright and critic Vikram Phukan. This realisation became a trigger for a play when the India Foundation for the Arts announced a grant in 2020 under its 25X25 initiative to celebrate 25 years of the internet.
Elaborating on the core idea of his new play, Dry Ice, Phukan says, “More than twoscore queer men I’ve known, most of them under 40 years of age, have died in the past few years alone, when I first began taking note of the growing notes of commiseration and stream of condolences online. This is not a statistic from a survey, but a personal count.”
The reasons for their untimely demise, according to Phukan, are varied. He cites HIV, cancer, an overdose of crystal meth, a liposuction surgery gone wrong, the scourge of suicide, heart attacks, and, now, the spectre of Covid-19 as some of the causes of these deaths. Some of those who passed away were close to Phukan. “I wanted to create a piece that would be a homage to their spirits. Dry Ice is fictional but draws from people I knew,” says the writer-director.
Dry Ice premieres digitally on September 10 at 6 pm (with English subtitles) at https://www.skillboxes.com and will be followed by another show at 9 pm (with Hindi subtitles). The prerecorded play will have more shows at 6 pm with English subtitles on September 11 and 12. On both days, Dry Ice shows will also stream at 9 pm with Hindi subtitles. The play looks at love and loss, grief and mourning in the age of the internet, through the lens of online queer communities who are given to resilience and despair in equal measure.
One of the initial ideas for the play was to work with members of the queer community. But would have required a completely different approach and process. “Actors came in after limited auditions. I had seen Akash Ghosalkar during a particularly spirited performance at the Drama School Mumbai, and he seemed right for the part of the radio host who is the play’s de facto narrator,” he says.
The cast also features Sahir Mehta and Nihir Jain. During the rehearsals, the actors interacted on video conferencing apps. They shot their portions at their respective locations in front of green screens with their phones placed on tripods. This was followed by month-long post-production work.
Though the restrictions imposed during the pandemic affected everyone, the members of the queer community had an added pressure to deal with. “The home, which is a sanctuary for many, might be a place where self-expression is curbed. The pandemic denied access to their physical hideouts and comfort spaces to many. The internet, with its constant toxicity, cannot provide an alternative to the joys of physical congregation,” says Phukan, who has set up Theatre Jil Jil Ramamani.
Tickets for the show of Dry Ice are available at bit.ly/DryIceWSPD
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