Light: A Review
Iris C F Gomes
The Mustard Seed Art Company draws in crowds to its dramatic presentations merely by the mention of the name of the production company. As amateur theatre, it vies for a billing similar to that of one of the better theatre production companies, thanks to the skilled writing of playwright and director Isabel Santa Rita Vás. The latest play, Whistling in the Light, revolved around thought provoking themes.
The year is 2030 and the world has undergone a monumental change since 2020, the commencement of the Age of Light. Most countries, with the exception of France and Brazil, have shielded themselves from the natural light and are illuminated through artificial lights called LEDX. The programme is called Fiat Lux and the State dictates times when you can venture outside and the nature of the light you will experience.
For all intents and purposes, it seems like a utopian world, as the move was brought about in an attempt to protect the people from the ever expanding hole in the ozone layer. Time and again you hear warnings about suffering the consequences of cancer, sterility, etc, on rebelling against the orders of the National Council of Light.
In this atmosphere of artificial peace and tranquillity comes a lone voice of reason. Anand with his intervals of whistling, is evidently the only glimmer of hope in this overly exuberant ambience, which belies the secret agenda of the megalomaniac World Council of Light. The agenda is reminiscent of that of the Nazi German State, Fascist Italy and the religious fundamentalists of today: complete control over individual freedom.
Anand is an architect, who has gone so far as to destroy his own creation, a lighthouse to be used as a surveillance tower. He is considered a fool and traitor to the State by his friend Dinesh and his assistant Malaika, who have eagerly bought into the propaganda.
Dinesh has aspirations of joining the National Council of Light and will do anything to achieve his ambition, including undergoing the VSS or Voluntary Self-Sterilisation procedure. He manages to convince Kareena, a love interest for both Anand and Dinesh, to undergo the same with the promise of a bonus.
Kareena has arrived after a long period of time in China where her mother fled with her lover from the shambles of her marriage to a blind Chinese man. She is introduced to the audience as an illumination therapist, one who helps people adjust to the new way of life. Dinesh takes her on board his plan of cocooning a hitherto untouched hillside area as part of the Seal My World project.
A clearly disturbed Kareena, traumatised by her past, her lack of identity as a child of a mixed race marriage and the societal prejudice against her because of her father’s profession as a ‘bhangi’ or one who clears up human faeces, is convinced to exchange her womb for monetary gain. Her inner conflict reaches a climax when she experiences the night and a glorious moon on the hillside. She cannot tell if she has made the right decision in giving Dinesh her word, a decision probably motivated by her assumption that there is a romantic connection between Malaika and Anand, for whom she clearly cares. Memories of the past haunt her. She recalls her blind father and his lament of not being able to see the ‘Queen of the Night’, the moon.
The blind father, despite his shortcomings of drunkenness and wife beating, symbolises the freedom to make individual choices and achieve goals in the face of disabilities. As a blind man, Kareena’s father would make paper lanterns with his own hands to celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival and toiled to give his daughter a good education.
But Malaika has already walked out of her job with Anand as a designer of illumination. She has an effervescent nature that finds Anand regressive, and as a child of the new age, she has full faith in the claims of the State about the benefits of artificial illumination against the natural light.
Talk turns to Diwali, the festival of lights, which no longer has the support of the cycle of natural light and darkness to showcase its true beauty and the people, mired in their unhappiness, are no longer inclined to celebrate it. The ever opportunistic Dinesh decides to create a new festival to win the favour of the National Council of Light and gain a promotion. He and Malaika plan to switch off the lights for ten minutes to allow a magnificent display designed by her.
Meanwhile Anand and Kareena nearly succumb to the pressures around them: Anand to work for the State designing buildings and Kareena to undergo the VSS. As they confess to one another, Anand tells Kareena that he cares for her, which immediately causes her to change her mind about the VSS. She in turn chides Anand for relenting and almost surrendering his principles to the oppressive State.
Anand’s mother, Vitorina, breaks down mentally and holds Malaika back from turning the lights on after the ten minutes of the celebratory display of rainbow lights. This allows the people to remember the darkness, the beauty of manmade light against that darkness and the harmony of the natural cycle of night and day…light and darkness.
Dinesh’s threats against Kareena for withdrawing from the agreement do not deter her. She decides to join Anand who turns his sights to working in Brazil, one of the two countries that have eschewed Fiat Lux.
In the end, the artificial lights are seen for what they are – a façade to rob the people of their freedom to make choices. There is the message that when the natural order is interfered with and manmade inventions are not used within a certain context, more harm is done than good.
Isabel Vás’ well written script is effective in nudging the audience to look beyond the play. The directorial work by Kiran Bhandari and Isabel Vás is commendable, although the transition between the acts could have been more fluid. The intervals between the acts with the citizens conveying the reality of their situation in a satirical manner, is a nice touch breaking the monotony of a regular theatre.
On the acting front, Roger Fernandes as Anand, Sharika Fernandes as Vitorina and Kiran Bhandari as Dinesh portray their characters well. Rishvi Pragasam as Kareena stands out with her natural acting and will shine with more experience. Actors fumbled with their lines occasionally, which bring into question whether enough time was spent in rehearsals. Daphne Pearl de Souza’s (Malaika) voice modulation needs to be worked on and her exuberance was a tad underwhelming. But imperfections excluded, the play was entertaining and enlightening, a production as expected from the Mustard Seed Art Company.