We are introduced to Gulzar’s family as they sit together, dressed in white, mourning his grandfather’s death. A picture of the grandfather hangs from the wall, larger than life and casting a shadow on the entire scene.

We follow the family in the aftermath of the death as they struggle to come to terms with the unanswered questions and unsettled emotions it has left behind.

The family is dysfunctional in a quintessentially desi way; a strict father with high expectations from his only son. The grandmother; a matriarch gluing the family together and providing advice, wisdom and love when needed. The mother, struggling to shield a sensitive son from an angry father; all characters that make up part of our households.

We have the nosy next-door neighbor, the childhood sweetheart, the rebellious best friend, characters we can identify and relate to.

Hamza Bangash, writer/director of the play, puts these people we have all known face to face with mental illness and explores how they react to the situation they are in. In doing so he exposes our own vulnerability and biases when it comes to dealing with a disease that remains shrouded in myth and mystery, largely due to a lack of honest and open discussion.  We watch the family stumble and break, as their youngest member, Gulzar, is besieged by emotions he cannot explain.

The concerned grandmother, who would probably know what to do if Gulzar had fever, or the flu, initially fails to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and is therefore unable to help him; leaving her feeling guilty and frustrated. The father reacts with denial, anger and eventually spirals into self-blame. This continues until things reach a crisis. It is then that the family accepts the need for treatment and moves towards getting Gulzar the help he needs.

Suno! explores the various explanations we provide to deny mental illness, and one by one discards them all, leaving the viewer no choice but to acknowledge its grim reality. We are brought face to face with its devastating impact if not diagnosed and treated on time.

The play also highlights how well meaning and concerned family members can at times act as road blocks to recovery by refusing to accept the reality of mental illness or trivializing and dismissing symptoms. The truth is inconvenient, especially if the neighbors will be discussing it.

Hadi bin Arshad perfectly captures the turbulent emotions of the young and isolated Gulzar. Hammad Siddiqui is brilliant as the father, energetic and crisp,conveying the father’s fear and anger as circumstances spiral beyond his control. Maha Jabeen is the witty and wise dadi; Danya Zaidi plays the concerned mother who stands firmly in her son’s corner. The play also features S.M Jameel as Ahsan, Hira Dar as Sheila/Nadia, Hassan khan as Gulzar’sbest friend Murtaza and Yasmeen Hashmi as Sophia.

Hamza Bangash has told a difficult story with heart and humor, drawing us straight into family life as experienced by Gulzar and leaving us feeling for this young man who is denied help when he needs it the most.

The play is a brave attempt by City Lights Productions and Taskeen to open conversation on a topic many shy away from. Through conversation they aim to promote awareness and to encourage sufferers and family members to seek help; as well as to challenge the misconceptions and myths that surround mental illness.

All images: Chromium Media Studio