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Dial 9999 for an absurd phone call that reveals life truths

19 February 2021

Dial 9999 for an absurd phone call that reveals life truths


Shrabonti Bagchi

A preview of the theatre production 'Lifeline 99 99' in the Live Mint.

Imagine this: the phone rings and you say hello. On the other end of the line is a cab driver from outer space who says he is going to take you to infinity and talks about the world he comes from. It's not a one-sided monologue either: you can ask him questions, and it's a proper conversation.

This is the premise of a new absurdist audio play from young Delhi-based theatre group Kaivalya Plays, running this weekend, which explores themes like loneliness, isolation, greed and consumerism through a fairly elborate setup, in which members of the audience are not passive consumers but just as important to the narrative-building as the actors.

When you buy a ticket to the 'show', you are given a one-hour time-slot on the days that the play is live, during which you have to call a given number. At first, an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) presents you with certain options, which you indicate by pressing numbers on the keypad of your phone (yes, just like trying to get through to Airtel customer care, which does teach one a lot about loneliness and infinity, come to think about it). Then the call is cut, and five minutes later, you get a call-back, and this time it's a human at the other end (this never happens with Airtel), who proceeds to have a conversation with you. Where the narrative goes, where it ends up, depends on how the chat goes.

“Even though the conversation topics and the basic narrative is set, there is a high level of improvisation, and every performance is unique depending on how the conversation goes,” says Gaurav Singh, co-director of Lifeline 9999 and one of the creative leads at Kaivalya Plays. "If you think about it, every phone call, every conversation, has an element of theatricality to it, and that's what we wanted to explore here. It's a truly interactive, immersive theatrical experience."
The play was developed as part of the Thespo Audio-Torium, a project led by theatre movement Thespo to develop audio-based performances, and is a good example of how the pandemic and its attendant rules about social distancing forced theatre groups, directors, writers and performers to really play around with form and content. "Actually, smaller companies like us have benefited from it, because there has been a levelling of the field. We don't have to worry about spending lakhs on booking auditoriums and then worry about selling tickets to recover the cost. Experimenting with audio has also forced us to think in very unique ways," says Singh. As for the audio medium, Singh believes we are all suffering from screen fatigue, and the rise of audio as a medium is a direct result of that.

Lifeline 9999 will go live on 20-21 February, between 6-9pm. Tickets are on and a time slot for the call will be given at the time of purchase

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