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Heaven can wait

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Trishla Patel takes the very serious and topical issue of mental health, and adds contemporary dance to make the bitter pill go down.

In her director's note, she writes, “Mental illness plagues a large percentage of our population. Many times it goes undetected and in many cases can't be completely cured. 'Jannat Central' focuses on this invisible disease and the havoc it can create. This story places us in the mind of a girl called J. What we see is quite different from what is actually taking place. The tricks the mind plays with us becomes the fabric of the play. Dance forms an integral part of J's world and allows us to explore her thoughts through it. This play is very relevant from the point of view of mental diseases and the challenges faced by an individual and their family.”

Directed by Patel and Shashank Vishnu Dutt, the play begins with the interaction between J (Jaya Virlley) and Nutty (Anna Ador) – the former curiously childlike; the latter restless and bursting into bouts of dancing, ostensibly as preparation to get work.

A boy called Bobby and a doctor flit through, and an elegantly dancing couple makes an appearance. Soon there is an inkling that things are not what they seem; there is a deft juxtaposition of hallucination and reality in the febrile mind of J, who is tortured by memories. Her father tries to get her to snap out of the past and accept the truth of what happened to cause her to lose her grip on reality. Dance becomes escape – an expression of joy, love, fear and in the end the therapy that helps J.

Soparrkar may be a bit weak as an actor (he plays J's troubled father); but when he is on stage as a dance, he owns the space. There are various forms of dance used in the play – kathak, ballroom, hip-hop and even a soulful Sufi whirling piece. Patel spoke to mental health care professionals to get pointers about how to portray a characters mental state, and structured the play to be bright and surreal rather than dark and depressing. The plot takes a while to kick in, but once the play grabs the viewer's attention, it does not loosen its grip.

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