A scene from the play
A scene from the play

Reflecting a random end

Writer-director Maneesh Verma’s new play, Jump, is a one-night story of two strangers on a rooftop in desperate situations, leaving their future open to viewers.

Half-torn hoardings flutter in the night breeze. Exposed pipes, a broken office chair and pieces of cardboard and wood are littered on what seems to be the roof of a high-rise building. Sounds of traffic, horns and blaring music are a medley of noise.

Amidst all of this, a well-dressed woman in her late 20s, sits reading a piece of paper. Her phone rings but she ignores it. Getting up from her spot, she paces the floor.

A sense of foreboding grows among the audience. Suddenly, without prior warning, she runs towards the edge of the roof and is stopped by a man she had not spotted till now—perhaps because she was in distress. She struggles fiercely to get away but fails. She gets up and runs towards the ledge again but is stopped by the stranger again; she falls yet again. And so, begins Jump.

Writer and director Maneesh Verma describes his bilingual play in Hindi and English as a ‘black comedy about life, death and everything in between’. A close shave with death—Verma was one of the survivors of the Uttarkashi avalanche tragedy in 2022—left him with many questions: ‘Why did I survive? Why didn’t the others?’ “I came to the conclusion that life is random.

As humans, we plan things and try to find logic but there is no logic to life,” he says. The suicide of a colleague later that year nudged him to explore the workings of a suicidal mind. “There’s a Hindi slang word called ‘bhasad’ which simply translates to complete chaos. Perhaps that is what goes on in the mind of a person who is depressed and wants to kill themselves,” he believes.

Writer-director Maneesh Verma
Writer-director Maneesh Verma

Back to the play. The woman (Vidushi Chadha) trying to end her life by jumping from the roof is wealthy and successful, but is also dealing with personal problems. She has been to several therapy sessions but none of them brought her closure. The man (Sandeep Shikhar), perhaps a little older, is a poor taxi driver with a huge debt, left behind by his father. His father, a farmer, had committed suicide. The rooftop is his refuge and he goes there at night to have a drink or two in peace.

These two strangers, at diverse ends of the socio-economic spectrum, are unexpectedly thrown into a situation where they are forced to have a conversation. She needs a drink and he offers her his bottle of desi ‘santra’. He asks for a cigarette and she hands him her vape. As they talk and confide things about their lives, a connection starts forming. “In a normal situation, these two people would not have spoken to each other. But this is an extreme situation where their filters are down,” explains Verma.

At some point, the woman says that she had always thought of her life as a tragedy, only to realise that it is a comedy. This is Verma’s subtle nod to the 2019 Hollywood film The Joker in which Joaquin Phoenix mouths a similar line. “I wanted to make a black comedy because talking about a serious issue seriously does not help the cause. You need to either lighten up the situation or talk about it as normally as possible,” he says.

The actors, say the director, have brought a lot to the table. In one scene where the woman is describing the trauma she faced from her father, the man almost nods off. “It was Sandeep’s idea. It works really well, because one person’s trauma can be just another story for the another. That’s how life is,” he says.

The invested viewer is left with an uneasy mystery. They don’t know if the woman would attempt suicide the next day, or come back for a conversation or go her own way. “In the end, he’s managed to save her for a day, but who knows?” asks Verma, who hopes that the audience understands the fact that there can be multiple perspectives to any issue and shouldn’t be too attached to their own. The difference between a mountain and a molehill is perspective is a fitting dictum.

The New Indian Express