A bird’s-eye view of the pandemic

Image credit: Indian Ensemble

Review… A Zoom Call Re: Birds

Rating: ***/5

Written and directed by Saudamini Kalra and Tushar Mathew; produced by Indian Ensemble

irds are quite active. They tweet, they koo, and they also celebrate the clear skies and low-hanging mangoes whether or not there is a lockdown. Saudamini Kalra and Tushar Mathew try to summarise all their chirpiness and more in a digital-era ‘performative audio-visual experience’, called A Zoom Call Re: Birds. The show curiously dovetails our mundane memories of bird-watching amid the unbridled nature with similar sightings from our city homes when the air quality improved a bit during the pandemic.

The performance opens on your computer screen and follows the new online drill — you log on, spend a few moments in the waiting room, and then station yourself in one of the many floating, no-picture windows labelled with familiar and unfamiliar names. Going by the theme, this one had a few bird icons too. Minutes later, a charming potted plant and a coffee mug put their cameras on, and we get to hear the voices of Saudamini and Tushar greeting everyone, and quickly acquainting the participants about their keen interest in birds and insects. This sets the precedent for what follows in the next 60 minutes or so.

Essentially a two-part show, A Zoom Call… unfurls in a non-linear fashion, juggling between A Karruppuraja’s fragmented accounts of a mysterious bird that nestled at a small village in Tamil Nadu for more than a month and quirky phone conversations between Dadi and Golunath about an unidentified winged creature, nicknamed Bela.

From mentions of the Australian bustard and the red-whiskered bulbul to short video clips about birds and some generously peppered pigeon facts, the narrative barely ceases being chirpy. All you need to do is sit back and wonder how many of these feathered creatures you have encountered in your life.

In fact, the audio can be considered a prime character of the show, making it an immersive experience for those taking part in the call. It kind of gives you the feel of a community radio, in which the voices you hear inspire you to think deeper and with clarity. Karuppuraja’s audio interviews with Chanakya Vyas are indeed the ‘soul of the show’, while you’ll be left in splits by Yuki Ellias’ voiceover for Dadi.

In between the audio interviews and phone conversations, Saudamini and Tushar engage and interact with the faceless windows of the Zoom call through games and quick exchanges. Along the way, you’ll also meet Kiki, Kimi, Gopi, Bittu, Sweetie, Paplu, who might test your knowledge of the avian world.

A Zoom Call… is a subtle reminder to pay attention to all that lives around us — be it birds or the trees where they perch on — before they fade away in silence. What also stays with you long after you left the call is the manner in which the makers have reinvented the online medium to craft a performance that jostles between theatre and radio. A little story is told at every bend of the show, yet each piece of fiction and reality is distinct and profound.

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