Sane cuckoos rule the stage

The immaculately done stage at IHC depicted what it was meant to – a modern-day psychiatric ward. Catching the attention of the audience and peculiar to the director’s style, it spoke volumes about the play that was to be witnessed soon. It was the time for minimalist Feisal Alkazi to revive Ken Kesey’s classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, adapted from the book’s Hindi translation by Kirandeep Sharma.

The audience were in for a treat again but of a different kind. “Every play has to be dealt with a different approach,” said Feisal sharing that he did this play 30 years back at IIT and felt the need to resurrect it because of his continuing job as a counsellor at Sanjeevani. “I have worked with schizophrenic people and know what it is like. I wanted to reinforce the stereotypes of people who are considered mad!”

Hence, the play narrates the story of a mental ward in which inmates struggle with their inability to face society. Until a new entrant Prabhu Prakash Deshpande aka Pappu mobilises other patients to challenge the draconian rules of the establishment and turns into a formidable enemy for Nurse Rachet, who wants the rules to remain untouched and the system unchallenged.

The narrative which is comic yet compelling, depicts this clash between the system and the rebel. But just before every scene is about to end, the director makes sure that it leaves behind a strong statement.

“You will have to follow the rules,” says Nurse Rachet played ably by Devika Anand Puri who manages to arouse feelings of distaste in the audience. Pretending to be motherly, what she maintains instead is a vice-like grip over her patients while encouraging them to attack each other verbally, which in turn ensures that they remain closeted and unsure of their sanity.

Only Pappu (played by Jaipreet Singh) sees through her vile tricks. As the play progresses, he unwittingly taken on the responsibility of rehabilitating fellow patients and becomes their leader. In the process, he undergoes shock therapy as punishment but it is the weight of his obligation to the others and fear for his life which begins to wear down his strength.
Though the play revolves mainly around Rachet and Pappu’s tussle, it also saw an impactful performance by Bunty (Pranay Manchanda) who stammers to perfection! Another actor who deserves a special mention is Gunjan Sharma aka Chameli Jaan, an effective replacement of character of the prostittute in the original work.

The rest of the adaptation retains the essence while contextualising it locally. For instance, Ravi Yadav who plays Bahadur and croons Bollywood songs of the 70s when drunk on duty, is a brilliant touch. “It is not a play around the protagonists but an ensemble piece which required everyone to be good,”

says Feisal, informing that the biggest challenge he faced was to find 12 good, male actors and then bring the entire cast together for rehearsals!

The green spotlight over the ward’s window deserves a special mention since it helps the audience to believe in the world of illusions that the patients live by. It is through this window that one of the inmates escapes while his voice lingers on in our heads, “I will be able to survive outside!” Will he? 

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