What Happened?! Heeba Shah’s new play is a funny take on humans’ digital dilemma

An Alchemy presentation, the Hindi-English comedy will be performed at Ranga Shankara this Sunday

4 min readNov 19, 2022
Heeba Shah and Padma Damodaran in a scene from the play

By Reema Gowalla

Much ink has been spilled about how technology helps us to connect and communicate with those whom we don’t get to see very often. The notion that technology is a boon in its own right was amplified even more during the Covid-19 pandemic, when most of us were homebound and all we did was gaze at the screen. But is it really so? Or are we tricked into believing that the digital space has brought us all together, whereas in reality, technology has hijacked our minds and kept us apart? Heeba Shah-directed play What Happened?! probes into these and more.

“The play traces the lives of two strangers — one writer and the other dancer — whose paths wouldn’t have crossed had there not been a blackout due to a power failure in the building, where they both live in separate apartments. However, the two women engaging in an actual conversation doesn’t go down well with the other characters in the play (‘humanised apps’). The thing is they want the two neighbours to communicate with one another, but only online. The narrative is a funny take on technology and human beings, and the relationship they share with each other,” says Heeba, who has also co-written the play.

Actors during a rehearsal session

An Alchemy presentation, What Happened?! premiered at Prithvi Theatre in December 2021, and is now making its first tour outside Mumbai. The play is coming to Bengaluru this weekend, with shows scheduled to take place at Ranga Shankara on Sunday. It is a Hindi-English comedy in two parts, with a total runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes, featuring actors Padma Damodaran, Joy Fernandes, Shishir Singh Chauhan, Sooraj Sharma, Jeevan Shetty, Kabbir Deshmukh and Heeba.

Although Heeba has acted in and directed several plays in the past, it’s the first time that she has donned the hat of a playwright. So, what triggered the idea to write this play? “This thought first came to my mind during the pandemic. Even though the lockdowns meant that most people in urban locales stayed together with their family, people were still away from each other under the same roof, thanks to the many Zoom calls and online classes,” she explains.

Sooraj Sharma and Shishir Singh Chauhan

“In recent years, a lot of concerns have been raised over youngsters becoming more and more addicted to their smartphones. And we have now reached a point, where people from all age groups are becoming slaves to technology. Staying online is an unwittingly essential part of our day-to-day life, while staying offline has become a luxury. We are so invested in tweets, texts, pictures and posts on social media that we refuse to communicate with others normally in the real world. It’s sort of a maya jal that plays with our mood, and influences our thoughts and emotions. That said, the roles can be reversed, and it’s up to us to do that. There is no denying that technology plays a vital role in our daily realities. But it’s also important to understand that it is commanding way too much of our attention, resulting in excessive digital dependence. It’s up to us how we make an effort to train ourselves to break this dependency and build a healthier relationship with our device, instead,” says the director.

Padma Damodaran and Kabbir Deshmukh
Joy Fernandes

Gazing at the stars or counting fireflies may not constitute the best of memories for children today, but fostering human connections (without depending on technology) is still important to hold on to. With a comedic undertone, the play focuses on the impact of technology on our mind, while it talks about love, friendship and willpower.

The script for the play is co-written by Phulmani Varma, while the music is by Abraham Khanna and Navneet Ranga. Mayank Upadhyay has done the choreography, Marvin D’Souza is in charge of costume and Kunal Sharma is taking care of light design and operation. “We have just had 7–8 shows of this play so far, and every time the response from the audience has been phenomenal. It’s an entertaining piece, with moments of dance and music also interwoven. Alchemy is a relatively new theatre group that I am putting a lot of effort into, and we are happy to bring this play to Ranga Shankara as part of its maiden tour,” Heeba sums up. Earlier this month, she also performed at the Prithvi Theatre Festival, as part of Motley Productions’ play More Beastly Tales.

Catch shows of What Happened?! at Ranga Shankara on November 20 (at 3.30pm and 7.30pm). You can book your tickets here.

A glimpse of ‘What Happened?!’