By Reema Gowalla
Quirky and provocative as it may sound, writer-director Mallika Shah’s play I Killed my Mother/It Wasn’t my Fault is an eye-opening piece on how social media silently conditions how we think about and react to situations in life. That something like doomsurfing may have long-lasting consequences in our life, so much so that it may actually impact the way we behave or conduct ourselves among our near and dear ones.
What started off as a note at Indian Ensemble’s First Draft: Ideas Lab in 2020 eventually took the shape of a full-fledged play with the help of a grant from the Drama School Foundation Mumbai and some crowdfunding. I Killed my Mother/It Wasn’t my Fault premiered in March 2023. Following successful runs in Mumbai, the 60-minute play is now ready for its maiden tour in Bengaluru this month — with shows slated to take place at Shoonya — Centre for Art and Somatic Practices, Bangalore International Centre and Ranga Shankara. The Bengaluru run is produced by Mallika and Meghana AT (tafreehwale!), in association with Bhasha Centre (via their Manch initiative) and Paytm Insider.
Chronicling the turbulent events of a day in the life of a young woman, the play features actors Shreya Sharma, Astha Gulati, Janhvi Marathe, Meghna Manglani, Riya Soni and Mithil Raj Goswami. Ahead of I Killed my Mother/It Wasn’t my Fault Bengaluru shows, TheatreRoom caught up with Mallika to understand why she calls the play ‘a hybrid comedy drama’ and more. Excerpts:
Q. What made you write this play?
A. I Killed my Mother/It Wasn’t my Fault follows a day in the life of a 25-year-old woman. I basically wanted to expand on a train of thought and present it in a theatrical format. That’s the idea with which I started working on the play. Actually, it came from a poem that I wrote one day when I had an argument with my family. So, it was just like a longish poem about wanting to have independence from the people you live with, your family or parents, and how much comes in the way of that and how it’s such a small thing. But on a day-to-day basis, the modernity of it can become a big demon in your head. I wanted to expand this particular idea in a dramaticized format.
It was like when you really are unhappy with your mother and you really hate her in a moment, what if that hate is akin to murdering her or killing her? The first part of the title, I Killed my Mother, is that violent urge that we all feel at some point in our mind and body, in every fibre of our being. The second part of the title, It Wasn’t my Fault, is a phrase that the protagonist keeps coming back to again and again throughout the play. And that happens because I’m trying to situate her as this extremely privileged person, who victimises herself in every situation, even when it was her fault.
I wanted to play with these two pillars of privilege — the privilege of having parents with whom you live, who support you, who are accepting of you. But, at the same time, this is making her very dependent, so much so she’s not able to take accountability for anything that she does.
This is the world that I’m building in the play. And the way we stage this is that there is an outside voice, which is the protagonist, and her inside voice is portrayed by four ensemble members. So, there are four other femme actors who depict different facets of her personality. The entire play is like constant back and forth — consisting of hatred, nagging and pushiness between these five people.
Q. Tell us more about the plot…
A. A girl wakes up one day and realises that she has lost her job. Unable to deal with it and failing to take accountability, she ends up fighting with her mother instead. Later, she goes to a party, because she had to go on a date that night and the guy invited her to a friend’s house. It’s at this party where she feels that she doesn’t belong with her peers. She feels stunted, as she doesn’t have the independence that they do.
This is also the only real scene that we see in the play, because the entire piece is narrated through her eyes and her inner voices. We wanted to have this character as an unreliable narrator. So, after she leaves the party, these inner voices (depicted by an ensemble cast) also sort of fade out. She then takes a rickshaw and heads home. The phone also plays a huge part in the play. Every time she’s scrolling on Instagram, we see what she’s watching on it. She even breaks her phone at some point in the play.
Q. The title I Killed my Mother/It Wasn’t my Fault does sound a little provocative. Was it a deliberate decision to keep it so or did it just happen to be?
A. It was deliberate. I wanted to keep the title obnoxious, because this character is obnoxious. And in a way, I also wanted people to want to come to the show upon hearing or reading the title. Actually, I did not change the title at all since the first draft of the play, because I wrote it during Indian Ensemble’s First Draft: Ideas Lab, back in 2020.
Q. So, would you describe the play as a satire or a hybrid piece of some sort?
A. It’s a hybrid comedy drama. That’s how I would put it. It has satire in certain places, but I don’t think the whole thing is a satire, because I’m taking it pretty seriously. I didn’t want to belittle the lead character’s life. But at the same time, I wanted to show the hypocrisy of a person’s life by just firmly situating it in that and not excusing herself from her position.
Q. You have had quite a few shows of this play already. How has been the response from the audience?
A. It’s been pretty humbling to know how people have really felt very close to this piece. I was initially a little apprehensive that it would only be relatable for young women. But it’s not just young women, it’s their mothers as well who have identified with the play. In fact, a lot of young men could also relate to it, because although it’s a story that’s so inherently female, it has so much of what young people are dealing with — be it doomscrolling on their phones or having aggressive thoughts in their head at any point in time, because you’re consuming and witnessing so much around you. We’ve had a very warm and overwhelming response to the play so far.
Catch the shows of I Killed my Mother/It Wasn’t my Fault at Shoonya — Centre for Art and Somatic Practices on September 23 (at 6.30pm and 8.30pm), Bangalore International Centre on September 24 (at 7pm) and Ranga Shankara on September 29 (at 7.30pm). You can buy your tickets here.