Stage Struck’s Stuck In The Lobby is, in the simplest terms, a project of high ambition, sought to be achieved by a recipe of humble enough ingredients. The concoction comprises a stripped down setting signifying a hotel lobby, a time span of three days, a set of characters of amusing idiosyncrasies and a simple storyline.
The ultimate ambition, however, is to sneak into the simplicity of narration, commentary on modern human existence, and on the harmonies and conflicts that constitute the fabric of contemporary society.
A sudden storm holds captive the guests at a hotel. Bereft of Wi-Fi and other such necessaries of modern living, they find themselves frequenting the lobby, looking for human connection in the world outside the internet. There is the newly married couple, the young chainsmoking cynic, the engineer turned aspiring author, the retired army veteran and the charismatic sociologist who wins over his affections.
Rather peripheral to the main centre of action, yet important to the unfolding of events, are three more characters. These are the workers, and the erratic manager of the hotel.
The characters are all Bengali-speaking, all Bengali with the exception of army veteran Mr Singh. They are realistic enough-though archetypical, in their own way, to the Bengali social fabric. If the characters rely too heavily on stereotypes, they make up for it by adding a decided individuality to the same.
The dialogues in ‘ Stuck in the Lobby ‘ are generously sprinkled by popular culture references and allusions to contemporary events – everything from demonetization to Chetan Bhagat. The younger members also have a series of Bengali swear words ready at the tip of their tongue, which they deliver to the older residents with an alarming rapidity.
The profanities are significant, because they introduce an element of subversion. It may only be a license granted by temporary inconvenience – but it does inaugurate the theme of offence, and the hypocritical nature of respectability. These are themes central to the subsequent action of the play.
Even as the residents bond over their shared inconvenience- being stranded in the hotel – scope for conflict is evident right away. These conflicts are generational – the younger generation resents the older people’s attempts to school them, as well as pertaining to class -the workers are told off for asking for a tip at every pretext, and reiterating the same menu in varied order over and over again.
The theme of moral complexities and laxities arise as well. They are hinted at, first, when the social analyst, Miss Sanyal talks of her multiple divorces, and her former husband’s infidelities. In a turn of events rather shocking to any moderately conservative Indian audience, the newly married bride, suspecting infidelities on the part of her husband, puffs at a cigarette borrowed from her young male friend, before leaning in for a kiss.
A tone set by light hearted bickering and humor often bordering on juvenile, quickly descends into gravity with a rapidity that is almost bathetic. Conflict of an overt, confrontational kind also surfaces in the realm of political discussions. In one of the most climactic moments, Miss Sanyal and Manoj Mitra point figures and hurl threats at each other over political differences, while a worker hovers over them and points out the hypocrisy of respectable Bengali society.
Thus the champion of the communist (party’s) cause is openly classist, and her opposition, while highlighting the brutality of her party, does not shy away from insinuating threats of sexual violence. The play ends on notes of partial resolution – signifying that though human beings have, in the words of Manoj Mitra, an inability to coexist, all hope is not lost.
For all its challenges to middle class Bengali complacence, the play is not without its pitfalls. The depiction of the workers are as underdeveloped characters, relying on tired, hackneyed tropes for comic effect. The cast is almost entirely an all-male one, the two female characters too being depicted heavily through their relations with the male. The play would fail the Bechdel test quite spectacularly – since even when the two women bond, it is over a pair of earrings and then, their own respective relationships with men.
Despite these flaws, the play is an innovative endeavour set in the right direction. It sometimes has a rather cinematic quality to it – if only in its resonance with The Breakfast Club, or its bringing the concept of background music to the realm of theatre. It is also a significant work in its being an articulation by the Kolkata youth – it is the voice of a generation ready to question the mores of the society to which it is born, and reexamine every value they have been taught to internalize.
It is important because it is a voice that questions, even if it is one in need of introspection itself. Dissent may not be enough, but it is a start – and if one has not quite reached the answers yet, inquiry is a wonderful place to begin.