Upar Waala Kamra: Anoop Gupta’s devised piece focuses on the caregiver’s mental health

The Delhi-based theatre practitioner is bringing the performance to Bengaluru for the first time this weekend

The poster of ‘Upar Wala Kamra’, designed by Anuj Chopra

By Reema Gowalla

Mental illness is a reality, and so its portrayal through the medium of theatre doesn’t only need to be handled delicately but also sensitively. While most stories focus on the platitudes around mental health, Delhi-based theatre practitioner Anoop Gupta’s new devised piece, titled Upar Wala Kamra, also sheds light on the plight of the caregiver.

“What starts off as the story of a young man who is suffering from depression, and so confines himself to his room on the upper floor of a house that he shares with his ageing father, eventually becomes the narrative of the latter — the caregiver. Marred by a lack of communication and concern over his son’s mental well-being, the father often travels back and forth in time reliving his childhood memories and later when he suffered a heartbreak. It’s deeply disturbing for the father to watch his son slipping into isolation, as his own mental health is increasingly getting affected by it,” says Anoop, who has devised and directed the 85-minute performance in Hindi.

Primarily, the piece attempts to create a conversation around depression from the standpoint of an outsider. As the father is trying to understand why and how his son has reached this point, he starts looking at their life as a family, himself as a father and the inexplicable nature of mental illness. The story of a household somewhere in North India, Upar Wala Kamra scrutinises “the strong forces and bonds that operate within a family, pulling us together and apart”. Anuj Chopra is behind the light and poster design for the piece, while video documentation is also done by Anuj along with Pratiik Bhalawala and Dhruv Malik. Vishal Dagade and Nitesh Tiwari are in charge of stage management.

Anoop Gupta

The piece had its maiden shows in Delhi in 2020, a little before the first lockdown was imposed. Then after a long hiatus, there were a few shows at Dharamshala and Delhi again. Its first Bengaluru run is starting at Lahe Lahe on April 15 and April 16; at Our Theatre Studio on April 17; and at Maraa — a media and arts collective on April 24. There might be a few more shows in the city later, one of which will explore the possibility of art as a healing medium.

Talking about the making of Upar Wala Kamra, Anoop says, “Although I had conceptualised the piece a few years ago, it took me a while to form the narrative and devise it. Over time, I kept revisiting the script and fine-tuning it. That allowed me to introspect and delve deeper into the topic. Parts of it are inspired by my personal experiences, which is also the reason I decided to keep it as a solo performance. Having said that, I feel the piece is still evolving. The subject that the performance is dealing with is layered and distinctive. The performance, however, is still a lot on the surface level.”

This is Anoop’s first solo work and he has taken help from his mentor, veteran theatreperson Jyoti Dogra in conceptualising and crafting this piece. “I was very apprehensive about whether or not the audience will be interested in watching a performance like this. I am grateful to Jyoti Dogra for constantly guiding me through the process of shaping the performance,” explains the actor-director. Other noted people from the theatre fraternity—Khalid Tyabji, Rehaan Engineer, Vineet Kumar, Anuj Chopra, Vishal Dagade, Neel Chaudhuri and Bharavi—have also supported Anoop on this project.

A scene from the performance

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