Stills from the play

Stills from the play
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Mental health and suicide – words that can trigger fear in the heart. Yet, there may be just a handful who may not have experienced the devastation of these words. Despite there being a rise in depression and self harm, not everyone is forthcoming in talking about it or seeking help. The fear of rejection and social stigma keeps them from speaking up. Actor, director, producer, Maneesh Verma, wants to propagate mental well-being, make people laugh about their fears and encourage them to seek help. This, he does with what he knows best — theatre.

The NSD graduate has written and directed a dark comedy, Jump, which he says looks at death from the perspectives of the two major characters on stage.

Maneesh Verma

Maneesh Verma
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

“Jump is a black comedy that talks about life, death and everything in between. It tackles suicide, depression, and mental health, and navigates through these issues with a delicate balance between humour and sensitivity, sparking essential conversations and promoting awareness,” explains Maneesh over a call from Mumbai.

The story, Maneesh says, revolves around a successful woman executive, who wishes to end her life by jumping off a roof. She is saved in the nick of time by a cab driver. This sets the stage for a collision between two completely opposite worlds, characters, circumstances, beliefs, and perspectives. The actors on stage will be Sandeep Shikhar from Bengaluru and Vidushi Chadha from Mumbai.

The play, Maneesh says, comes from a personal space. “I am a mountaineer and was in UttarKashi in October 2022 as part of an advanced mountaineering course. We were a batch of 53 people and we lost 29 to an avalanche. I somehow survived and that changed my life. I was left with a lot of questions and those emotions led me to explore the concept of death.”

Maneesh says his life experiences have gone into the play. “After the incident, I would break down and was depressed. It was one of the lowest phases of my life. That was also the time, when I lost a dear friend to suicide. I sought therapy and decided to explore how the mind works.”

Active in theatre for over 25 years, Maneesh has directed, produced musicals, social dramas, comedy and children’s plays. He has also acted in films such as Yodha, Gunajn Saxena, Dhadak and web series like Ajeeb Daastan and Typewriter.

The play uses humour to make people aware about their mental well-being and encourage them to seek help, Maneesh says. “The intention is to spread awareness of how the mind works. Sometimes even people closest to the sufferer has no idea what is going on in their minds. We think actors are great at acting, but I have come to believe that people are the greatest actors in life. They mask their emotions and feelings expertly from their closest friends and family.”

The executive in the play opens up to a stranger, Maneesh says as she feels he may be less judgemental. Death is explored through the two characters — a well-to-do woman who feels she has nothing to live for and a less-privileged man, who lost his father to suicide is left with the burden of clearing family debts. “Jump is about nihilism versus existentialism. When one is existing, they cannot even think of ending their life.”

Maneesh admits suffering from survivor’s guilt. “I do not believe in god or luck. It was hard for me to understand why I had survived. My core beliefs were shaken and I felt there was no control over death. Suddenly, I looked at life and nature as being random. Nature does not think who is good or bad, old or young.”

The characters in Jump discuss about seeking help from therapists or quacks, based on their economic, social backgrounds and beliefs, says Maneesh. “That is where the dark humour comes from.” Maneesh founded his production company, Collective Madness Studios in 2004. “It is a platform for anyone who believes that theatre is a practicing art form.”

Jump was commissioned and premiered at the Serendipity Arts Festival in December 2023. It was also staged at Rangayana Theatre Festival, Mysuru.

Jump in English and Hindi, will be staged at Rangashankara on April 5 (7.30pm) and 6 (3.30pm and 7.30 pm) and at Bangalore International Centre on April 8. It is open to people aged 15 years and above. Tickets on BookMyShow and at the venue.


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