Death doesn’t hit hard, unless the corpse lying in front of you is of one of your own. When someone you love is lying cold on the floor, that’s what sends chills down the spine.

A work of art, Dry Ice: The death wish of a generation, is a brilliantly written play that stares at grief and mourning in the digital age through the eyes of queer men who seek ways to cope with life’s dejections. After all, who doesn’t want to feel accepted in this age where users thrive on their hourly doses of dopamine offered by random strangers on the web?

Based on a true story that shook Vikram Phukan, director and writer, this is one bold, blunt, yet relatable play. Bold, due to its powerful messaging; blunt because it’s so ‘in-your-face’; and relatable because one sees their reflection in these characters.

The play was screened in an intimate setting at Agora The Space, a space for artists, creators and thinkers in Guwahati on September 12, 2021. The all-female audience was left awestruck, and one could make that out by the pin-drop silence in the hall. Thunderous applause by the women followed the end of the screening.

Characterisation and plot

The play ‘Dry Ice’ revolves around the lives of three main characters – Sahir, Akash and Nihir. It does not portray the initial struggles that the characters must have gone through, like their life in the closet, or coming out to their family; to society. The characters had grown past it all. Instead, the play focuses on their life incidents, which altered their personality.

Akash’s character is shown reserved and closeted, which also becomes a pain for him. His reservations do not allow him to do things he would have done otherwise. Before he realises this, his stubbornness to not label relationships costs him his love.

A radio show host by profession, Akash finds out that Sahir, someone extremely dear to him, has found his idea of a happy life and is getting married to a French queer man and that he is to go start a new life of acceptance and inclusion in the rainbow city of Paris. He feels extremely hurt when he hears of Sahir’s plans to have the exact wedding with his French love interest, which Akash had in mind for them.

Also read: Xomonnoy: A bridge for Queer people to tear down walls of discrimination

The radio show hosted by Akash, in a couple of scenes, had a playlist dedicated to women and their desolation, which probably was his way of expressing the emotions he felt deep down inside, but couldn’t let out, due to the way men are conditioned in our patriarchal society.

Sahir, on the other hand, who had imagined a perfect life in France, begins to repent when he ends up assuming the duties of a ‘typical homemaker’. He realises that he had always looked at the city of love with rose-tinted shades.

Sahir soon goes from being this completely liberated person to someone who becomes very cynical. His behaviour stems from his being distanced and separated from those close to him and is reflected in his conversations with Akash who is puzzled by his complaining attitude after getting everything he’d ever wanted. Not knowing whether to let go or hold on to Sahir, Akash seems to always be in a state of dilemma.

Sahir had thought that he’d feel more accepted in the foreign land which is very inclusive of gender minorities. It seldom occurred to him that he could still feel ‘queer’ because of his skin colour, being the only brown man in the company of dominant gay white males.

Meanwhile, Nihir, another character, enters the scene. Nihir appears to be blossoming into adulthood while learning to deal with the challenges and pressures of the world. Unlike the other two characters who are far more mature and informed, Nihir is trying to figure it all out, seeking comfort in talking to Akash through his radio programme. Things take a wrong turn when Akash finds out one day that Nihir is about to take his own life.

“For me, it was about, how much you can hold on to a person and how much you can let go,” said Akash Ghosalkar, who played his namesake. “It was mainly about losing the most important people in your life. How much you try to hold them back and how much you give them space. Akash knows that nothing happened between him and Sahir and that Sahir is married but he still wants to hold on to the connection, at the same time wanting to let go of it,” Ghosalkar explained.

“Sahir’s character is in disbelief, like ‘I can’t believe that this is how my life turned out and this is not fair.’ He is just like ‘I’m done,” said Sahir Mehta, about his character’s psychic struggle.

A panel discussion on ‘Nuances and representation of Psycho-social issues on screen’ followed the screening of Dry Ice.  

Among the panellists for the session were Dr Kalpana Sarathy, Professor, Social Work at the Centre for Public Health and Deputy Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati and Vikram Phukan. The actors of the play, Sahir Mehta and Akash Ghosalkar were the other panellists present, alongside Jai Khadilkar who was the moderator for the session. The panellists discussed how certain emotions and issues are portrayed on-screen while also delving into certain sensitive issues like gender, sexuality and mental health.

Also read: Pride with no Prejudice: Why Mayuri Deka’s poems are cathartic

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