Hadi Bin Arshad as Gulzaar. — Photo by Mariam Mirza
Hadi Bin Arshad as Gulzaar. — Photo by Mariam Mirza

As the world broke the silence surrounding mental health by observing Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10, Taskeen, an initiative catering to a similar cause, staged a play Kaun Sunta Hai (Who Listens?) to address the stigmas attached to Bipolar Disorder.

While physical ailments are regarded as real illness and treated as such, mental disorders are still dismissed as myths — or worse, as a state people 'feign' to get attention. The reality, however, is very different because mental health is as important as physical health and with cases of depression, anxiety and bipolarity on the rise, it is high time to lend an ear to all those who are suffering silently yet resiliently.

Bipolar disorder is characterised by depression and elevated mood swings, which can be treated with counseling and medication. A patient can improve significantly with treatment.

Written and directed by Hamza Bangash with concept by Ramis Akhter, Kaun Sunta Hai shows the struggles of a young man Gulzar (Hadi bin Arshad), who suffers from Bipolar disorder and gets rebuked by society for it.

Performed at Jinnah Medical and Dental College (JMDC), the play follows the life of Gulzar, whose parents (played by Asiya Alam and Hammad Siddiq) were indifferent to his suffering and gave in to society's pressure to 'normalise' him.

Asiya Aslam as the mother — Photo by Mariam Mirza
Asiya Aslam as the mother — Photo by Mariam Mirza

Kaun Sunta Hai also touches upon the social dilemma of the parents of a patient, with the title capturing the lack of empathy that compounds the suffering of bipolar patients.

How life wasn't gulzar

Shown as a jovial boy in his childhood, Gulzar is an ace student but as he grows older and the race to become the best gets to him, he loses all interest in life and isolates himself, cutting himself from studies as well as his social circle. He also becomes quieter when he sees his parents fighting about his condition instead of giving him time and a shoulder to lean on.

The play starts off in an archetypal setting where Gulzar's mother is trying to prepare her husband for their son's plummeting grades. Despite many signs, the father can't accept that his son has a mental condition which leads to Gulzar's first suicide attempt. Gulzar is then admitted to a mental hospital.

A scene from the play. — Photo by Mariam Mirza
A scene from the play. — Photo by Mariam Mirza

However the young lad doesn't feel at ease there. The doctors downplay the severity of his condition by suggesting that it is normal behaviour for kids his age. While the mother realises that Gulzar has inherited the condition from his grandmother, the father only understands when he overhears a conversation between Gulzar and his psychotherapist.

When Gulzar utters the line ''Mai pehle jesa nahi raha, me wesa nahi" (I'm not what I used to be), the emptiness of his words strikes a chord with the father.

He realises that only time can bring his son back and the play has emotional moments when he tries to reconcile with the son in a game of Ludo.

Three actors, many characters

Like his previous plays, Hamza Bangash sticks to the idea of having fewer actors on stage. He assigns various characters to his limited cast and the play falls beautifully as the audience also starts to understand the importance of this technique.

“It’s better to take two good actors in multiple roles than having 12 bad actors," he believes.

A scene from the play. — — Photo by Mariam Mirza
A scene from the play. — — Photo by Mariam Mirza

Asiya, who easily adapted to the demands of playing four characters — mother, doctor, nurse and mental patient — said: "My favourite character was the doctor who tries to heal her patient with soothing words.”

Hammad, who plays the father, said his favourite scene was where he becomes violent with his beloved wife because he realised that his son has a problem.

The play manages to raise awareness and stresses time and again that instead of labeling people as 'pagal' (mad), they should be treated with love and respect so they can be rehabilitated.

Taskeen is a mental health and emotional well-being awareness initiative developed by the Pakistan Association for Mental Health in collaboration with CareForHealth and Humanity Initiative.

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