A scene from the play
A scene from the play

Memory and melody: Unraveling love in the age of information overload

Mohit Takalkar’s adaptation of a popular British play interprets the dynamics of love in an age of information overkill

A man who seems to have lost his memory is led to a piano. He does not know how to play it, but as soon as his distraught partner/girlfriend starts to sing, his fingers reach for the piano. He starts playing as if in a trance. But after the song ends, he still shows no signs of recognising her. The scene quickly segues to another and then another: all with different characters and situations which are unconnected. By the time the show comes to an end, the 11 actors on stage have played more than 100 characters and enacted close to 50 scenes.

Mohit Takalkar, director of the Indian adaptation of British playwright Caryl Churchill’s globally-acclaimed play Love and Information has kept the reins firmly in hand in spite the play formatted as a series of different discordant scenes. It does not follow the linear format, has no stage directions and no notes for performance. The scenes follow in quick succession, with the players having conversations about grief, relationships, fear, marriage, secrets, depression, sex and politics. The information overload for the audience is akin to the white noise of today’s world, which has amplified in the past few years.

Takalkar, who has directed the adaptation for NCPA, is keen to decode what happens to love in this age of information surfeit. “Are we mistaking knowledge for information? Are we confusing wisdom with knowledge? In all this chaos, what’s happening to love? I think Churchill is speaking of larger axioms which cannot be reduced to information. Certain things cannot be analysed and should not be analysed,” he insists.

With no stage directions or notes on where a scene is to be set, Takalkar has a free hand in allotting the conversations in settings of his choice. For instance, the conversation between a married couple about the husband ratting out another person is played against the setting of their child’s school function, where the child (coincidentally?) is playing Brutus from Julius Caesar. In another scene set in an art gallery, one person tells another that they can’t fire people over email. Two women in the gallery take out their mobile phones and start recording the altercation. By placing what could have been a private conversation into a public space, Takalkar manages to add an extra dimension to the scene. “The audience can see that the women are recording the arguments. Churchill’s world allows me to do that without adding anything. I can portray the horrors of where we have reached today,” he says.

At times, the quick change of scenes, conversations and energy feels overwhelming for audiences used to watching linear theatre formats or a consistent storyline. Takalkar has made the effort to make the play accessible to everyone. To this effect, he uses a large papered wall on the stage where actors paint keywords related to the particular scene; next, these are painted over with other words once the scene changes. “The playwright has named all her scenes. These could be a useful device for the audience to make sense of what is going on,” says the director.

Near the end of the play, in a section titled ‘Small Things’, different scenes play out—a girl dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one and a boy sitting and staring at a snail. “After all this information overload, I believe Churchill wants to take us to the time of age-old wisdom that says certain things such as grief or love cannot be analysed. Or else they will seem meaningless,” he shares.

Finding meaning in disconnected continuity was Takalkar’s challenge. The director who founded Aasakta Kalamanch, a Pune theatre organisation was studying to be a culinary chef when the theatre bug bit him. The play reflects the true cook’s metier: combing different ingredients to create a parallel aesthetic.

The New Indian Express