How easily and unthinkingly we reach out for our apps and hire a cab! We get on with our lives once we reach our destination. Sometimes we do end up chatting with these drivers. What makes them do what they do? What has driven them out of their homes to come and work in unknown cities?
The transition of our society to this kind of an economy got theatre person Chanakya Vyas thinking, and that formed one of the premise of his play Algorithms.
Algorithms is a theatrical performance, inspired by life stories of migrant cab drivers who drive a large part of the population in urban cities, observes the play’s writer-director Vyas, who is a also a teacher and theatre facilitator. The performance takes a peek into the lives of the drivers, who are as controlled by the app as the passengers and allows spectators to encounter this technology-mediated world in fragments and experience the impact that it has on privacy, freedom, choice and human connection.
“It is a bit like a game – the lives of these drivers. They choose when they can switch on and get on to the app. They choose when they don’t want to. But who really are these people driving us around Bengaluru? As I started speaking to them, I realized most are not even from here. Because you are driven by an app or map, you don’t need to be from the city…for me a lot of these things became interesting questions as a theatre maker,” says Vyas. He stared talking to drivers (he told them he was making a play on them); many talked to him about their choices, decisions and reasons for them. Vyas read up, researched and also met with tech company people who design these apps.
One constant theme that emerged during his conversations, says Vyas, is that of the classic dichotomy – of how these drivers experience freedom, yet feel trapped. Then there was the precariousness of their jobs. And the constant conflict between life and work, and how each defines the other, altering their economic conditions. “There is freedom from a nine-to-five job, and from a boss. But your boss now is an algorithm, who is far less flexible than a human being!”
Vyas agrees that each one of us who uses these app-driven cabs has our own cab driver stories. “My idea in the play is not to put across the cab driver story; that is just the foreground. I want people to think of larger questions like what does this kind of economy do to our understanding of work. It is all task-based now. This economy is giving lots of people work, but does it qualify as a job? Do questions of worker’s rights come up?”
The 90-minute play, puts out several ideas and questions that connects us all and hopes to start conversations around them, says Vyas. Ever since the play premièred in October 2018, many have been talking to them, and newer ideas have been incorporated. “A play constantly evolves — that is part of the journey of a play, as we do more shows and have second runs,” concludes Vyas.
Algorithms is produced by Bengaluru-based Indian Ensemble, of which Vyas is associate director.
The play is in Hindi, Kannada and English. It will be staged at Ranga Shankara on March 20 and 21 at 7.30 pm. It is suitable for an audience 16 years and older. Tickets, priced at ₹200, are available on bookmyshow and at the venue.