A meaningful encounter (The Pioneer)

21 August 2021

A meaningful encounter (The Pioneer)

By

Sneha Dasgupta

A review of the theatre production 'Lifeline 99 99' in The Pioneer.

Sneha Dasgupta dials in on Kaivalya Plays’ Lifeline 99 99

The current times are increasingly defined by frail social ties. An ever-growing pattern of indifference and shrinking empathy has rendered us secluded and loneliness seems to be the widespread epidemic that plagues us all. But in the midst of all this, what if one still yearns to establish a genuine human connection? Addressing this social crisis, Kaivalya Plays, an independent group of Delhi theatre practitioners, seek to create more opportunities for women in theatre, mentor new talent and innovate theatre formats, presented Lifeline 99 99 . It had loneliness and the urge to reconnect at the heart of its theme. I was lucky to tune in to the last day of the unconventional show; while the makers are planning to do another round before the year ends, they revealed that they are severely underfunded as it is currently being self-funded.

Unlike proscenium or the newly emerging online zoom plays, Lifeline 99 99 is an absurd drama that takes place over the telephonic medium. Due credit to the creators of the show — Gaurav Singh, the production manager of Kaivalya Plays who oversaw the technical aspects and co-directed it with Akshay Raheja, the writer. It is a testament to the fact that theatre is a collaborative creation as the audience members, in this case, the listeners, are engaged in an interactive exchange with the actors, which were one of the seven personas at the other end of the line. Each persona had a story of its own and did not hesitate to seamlessly make you a part of them.

How ironic is it when you are compelled to feel challenged by something as natural as a telephonic conversation? Within the first two rings, my call was received by what seemed like a bot with a pre-recorded set of lines and responses. However, it was paradoxical how this virtually simulated set-up felt so life-like. The monotone of the bot was interspersed with a joke here or an anecdote there, and it felt more humane than most people I interact with nowadays! My curiosity about what awaited me was further fed when I was connected to the persona of my choice.

Seven unique entities, seven distinct stories, and seven separate voices were all tied together by one thread of interrogation — in the age of growing indifference and shrinking empathy, can one still create a genuine human connection? Right at the onset of the performance, I was challenged with the 'task' to choose who is it that I would like to interact with — a conflicted sex chat operator, an aggrieved idealist, an alien cab-driver, a morbid insurance agent, a memory alteration researcher, an ethical scammer or art itself, personified. I was thrilled at the prospect of discussing a question that is always tethered to the corner of my mind. At first, I was connected to a persona I did not select but surprises are something I never shy away from, even if they appear in the garb of technical glitches.

In 30 minutes, Murugan from Telangana, with his persistent urge to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, was already on my nerves. All of a sudden, a complete stranger, who does not even exist, rightfully marched into my life with one telephone call and a treasure of ideologies that set my mind ticking. In an incessant badgering tone, trying to sign me up for a subscription to an illegal telephone network, Murugan propelled me to question the luxuries of my life. How do I stay cocooned in the comfort of my world turning a blind eye to the thousands of destitute living a life of mayhem? Is this where humanity is headed towards, an abyss of indifference?

This mind-boggling experience fueled my second conversation with a different persona, Kalpana, the one I had chosen in the first place. Having constructed a tapestry of theories and questions in my mind, Kalpana was the exact opposite of Murugan. She lacked his haste and embodied a prophetic vision. All this while I felt like a researcher, trying to gauge the performative aspects of this entire production, its nuances and technicalities, till I talked to Kalpana. I was Kalpana’s lab rat and she was the researcher. She quizzed me about memories, their impact and origin and left my mind riddled with a million questions. Her enigmatic laughter peppered between her thought-provoking games about memory alteration not only evoked a box of memories from my childhood but made me perceive memory as a separate being. Would I alter my memories if I had the chance to; sell them in exchange for more pleasurable ones? Do we even have any control over our memories, or are we the ones constructing or demolishing them?
This audio experience leaves a lot to the imagination, while simultaneously making it suitable for not only those with visual impairments but also for those experiencing screen fatigue. Each performance is a conversation that is distinct from another which is what makes it all the more unique and personalised.

Lifeline 99 99 portrays the urge to connect, regardless of the person you are communicating with. There is a sense of relief in just having another person on the line, a quantum in the canvas of the universe. A human being is an eclectic unit, and only conversations with different people bring out the nitty-gritties of human nature.