Everybody sleeps alone.

A collage of 'Nobody Sleeps Alone' at Ranga Shankara theatre, Bangalore (By Ankita Shreeram)

The play was called ‘Nobody sleeps alone’. And the title made absolutely no sense until at one point towards the end of the play, one of the protagonists delivered a flaming monologue. Godfrey began by declaring "Nobody sleeps alone", because our unfulfilled aspirations keep us company while we dream. But then, he turned on himself to aver with equal passion, "Everybody sleeps alone". This darker version of the seemingly jovial Godfrey impressed upon us the truth that all of us are completely alone, even if we’re sleeping next to our better halves. Which one of these arguments appeals to you more – nobody sleeps alone or everybody sleeps alone?

On the face of it, they are contradictory statements. But if you think about the implications, you actually realise that they can stand side-by-side. If ‘alone’ implies merely the lack of human company, then yes, in sleep, we are all alone. But it is absolutely true that our ideas, thoughts, aches and doubts never really leave us. They cling on to us in wakefulness and manage to break through the barriers we put up during sleep. In our dreams, we are all exposed. We stand naked because we are both participant and spectator. Artists live their dreams in the work they create. The rest of us consummate them in our dreams.

I watched this play at Ranga Shankara theatre in Bangalore. The newsletter said it revolved around gangsters in Mumbai. My friend and I were slightly amused to encounter this slice of Mumbai in a new city. My fears of being subjected to a hackneyed story proved to be unfounded. The story was engrossing. It featured three main characters - a teacher and his two students. They were being schooled in the art of deception, manipulation, and several other esoteric skills that would make them perfect gangsters. The aim was to pull of a heist successfully. But of course, the students fell in love and things went downhill from thereon.

It’s not the story itself that made the play so marvellous. The quirky traits of each character, the haunting monologues and above all, the incredible background score ensured that I would savour the play over and over, each time dwelling on a different nuance. Calling the music that the percussionist produced a ‘background score’ seems blasphemous to me. The music throbbed with so much energy that it was like a fourth protagonist. When Sarayu and Wazir danced around each other with their mutual passion, the drums danced too. When Wazir and Godfrey clashed, so did the cymbals. And the instruments didn’t just mirror or support what the characters did. They barged right in wherever they wished and set the stage aflame with their sonorous rhythms.

The play was a tragedy. There was nothing tragic about the way Sarayu performed for Wazir in her private chamber. But there was definitely something very tragic in the moment that Wazir shoots a man. He realises that he has done something he didn’t want to. And that knowledge twists inside him like a poisonous serpent. It is in this moment that Godfrey’s two-facedness is revealed. And so you don’t mourn his death. You do mourn the ill-fatedness of Wazir and Sarayu’s love story. But the most beautiful love is one that is left unfulfilled, is it not? 

(P.S.: This is not a review and I know next to nothing about theatre.)