The pandemic led to much artistic soul-searching, especially in forms like theatre dependent on collective social interaction. Forced to isolate, some dramatists and directors addressed the unprecedented situation in new works. What Happened? by Alchemy (Mumbai) belongs to this trend. Co-written by Phulmani Varma and Heeba Shah and directed by the latter, it premiered in 2021 and came here on July 29, presented by Sanskriti Sagar.
Two ladies who live on the same floor but have never met get stuck in a lift when the power goes out, sparking off conversation and then friendship. In the background we have a Matrix-like unit of “humanized apps” who seem to feed off people communicating online, not in person. Naturally the contact between the neighbours, one an author (Padma Damodaran) and the other a dancer (Shah), threatens their raison d’etre so they try their best to disrupt it.
Shah’s maiden effort at writing shows: the scenario is weak to begin with, but stretches credibility when the leads fantastically and inexplicably switch flats, and even more improbably, the dancer completes the story that the author could not finish because of writer’s block—suggesting that pretty much anyone can compose literature (unfortunately, something that many believe today).
She gets the best performances from Sooraj Sharma and Shishir Singh Chauhan, who put in studied Method-acting as the pet cats in her flat. Damodaran and Shah rank next in their natural, no-nonsense portrayals expressing the play’s message, the fundamental importance of human communication. In distant third place come the apps, who look most unconvinced by and unconvincing in their technological role.