Into the Shadows of Gaslight

March 15, 2024    

the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage (Merriam-Webster)

It is quite uncommon for a noun to evolve into a verb. In contemporary times, certain technologies and services have become so deeply ingrained in our daily lives that they require action words of their own, such as “Googling” and “Ubering.” This is far more uncommon in the realm of art. Despite their fame, masterpieces like the Mona Lisa, Hamlet, or Abhigyan Shakuntalam have not permeated our everyday lives enough to be transformed into verbs. Perhaps it is because art, by its very nature, offers an escape from our mundane existence and, hence, struggles to become a part of it.

This is precisely why Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller, Gas Light, holds such significance. In 2022, Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary, chose “gaslighting” as the Word of the Year, citing a staggering 1740% increase in searches for this term on their website. The origin of the word traces back to this play, which tells the story of a man who manipulates his wife into questioning her own sanity. The themes of manipulation and psychological abuse are just as relevant today as they were when the play was first written in 1938. In fact, the term “gaslighting” has now become a part of our daily vocabulary, thanks to our increased awareness of “fake news”, deepfakes, and other forms of psychological abuse. I wonder what vocabulary people used to express this phenomenon before this play was written. I wonder if they expressed it at all.

The play was adapted for the screen twice – first a 1940 UK film and later a 1944 Hollywood production that received seven Academy Award nominations and won two, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Ingrid Bergman. Honestly, the play can be set in any country or era, translated into any language, and it would still hold water.

We will present Gaslight in Hindi (with supertitles in English), beautifully transposed through the deft wordsmithing of Ritwik Verma and ably produced under the leadership of Alka Sippy. I am honored and humbled to work with an incredibly talented group of artists who seamlessly navigate a rollercoaster of feelings and complex emotions with such ease, making my job as a director a true pleasure and privilege. What we achieve in rehearsals is nothing short of magic, and I want to share a bit of that with our audience through “flex casting.” Each role in the play is double-cast and we are taking a mix-and-match approach where every show will feature a different combination of actors, resulting in unique chemistry and experiences each time.

As we inch closer to opening night, our days are filled with anticipation and excitement in presenting this powerful, timeless, emotional odyssey that will not only entertain you, but also spark important conversations. Naatak’s 108th production, Gaslight, will be playing at Starbright Theater, Campbell from Apr 19 to May 5, 2024. See you at the theater!

— Poulomi Sarkar