By Hammad Bilal
‘Lights Out’ is a lyric piece written by Manjula Padmanabhan, and directed by Fawad Khan into a comic-ironic exposition of the clash between absurdity and reality. In the play, a married couple tries to physically stage the misgivings, isolation, fetishes, and criminal thoughts lurking in the perceived normalcy of the middle class. It is jolting in its familiarity.
‘Lights Out’ revolves around a couple which, while entertaining guests in their apartment, is witness to a crime taking place outside their household.
Wife Laila (played by Kiran Siddiqui), and husband Rahat (played by Ghazi) go berserk as the virtuous and obedient wife screams at her husband to call the authorities to deal with the scenes of brutality playing off-stage. Rahat and Laila’s frenzied exchange over the decision to call the police, escalates the conflict to the point of frustration.
Other characters complete the cast: Danish (played by Farhan Alam) parries with Rahat in rationalizing their nonchalance to the situation, both looking for normalcy in a chaotic situation; Sikander, the Anti-hero, plans to stomp out these criminal lechers from society; Trophy Wife/Dandy (Naina, played by Kulsoom Aftab) becomes the sanest voice in the play while Farida (played by Laila Samhan) maintains a continuing oppressive silence throughout the various scenarios, playing the audience.
The respectably middle-class faculties of the characters are used to rationalize the acts taking place around them, while their equally carnal, almost eroticized response to the violence they witness threatens to remove any pretensions of respectability. The on-stage spectators of this crime, snatching sinful pleasure from the dying or even the dead, seem to point their figures at the spectators in the audience.
As Saleema Hashmi conveyed to Khan afterward: “Your play reminded me, from experience, of the public lynchings in Zia’s regime.”
Fawad’s vocalization of the screams symbolizing the violence inflicted on the unknown victim, intersecting with indoor middle-class conversation, played up the unpredictability of the drama. Combined with hollow drum sounds and the clatter of china on the table, they also drew parallels between the rituals of daily life and of the violence that surrounds us.
The acting displayed by the cast initiated us into a new language, one based not on words but on signs emerging through a maze of gestures, postures, airborne cries, filling the entire Auditorium.
The cast tested the discomfiture of the audience with their acting. In jerky gestures, angular postures, and syncopating inflections, their characters attuned themselves perfectly to the violence that had suddenly invaded their home.
One felt the effects of this new language on the spectators as many of them exited the Auditorium as if avoiding the plague on their senses. As Alina Javed ’22 would later state: “The screaming was triggering. Lekin reality hi dikhayi thi and this happens everywhere, I don’t think the subject matter is at fault.”
It is remarkable that, for many, the realism of the acting made the absurd plot plausible; the characters first appeared as caricatures, before being epitomized into something recognizable to them — themselves.
For Mubashir Shakeel ’20, who left before the end of the play, this familiarization with the subject matter meant he had predicted the ending, the falsity of which came as a surprise to him. “I wasn’t expecting the ending,” he said, “It really crept under my skin, and that doesn’t usually happen.”
Whichever way one felt about it, one was lastingly modified by the play. Its subject matter was able to spread deliriously like the plague of medieval times, localizing itself somewhere beneath the skin: real, inevitable, yet innocuous.
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