Djinns of Eidgah plays out on a stage awash in bluish light and strewn with pristine white shards, evoking snow and broken glass in India’s northernmost state, its austerity beautifully conjured by set designer Payal Wadhwa and light designers Pushan Kripalani and Arghya Lahiri. Much of the play rings true, from the acrid smell of gunfire to the physical violence and weltering emotion. Psychiatrist Dr Beg (Rajit Kapur) supports conciliatory talks with “the Indians” on Eid. He admonishes his assistant (Meher Acharia-Dar) for heeding the call of “azaadi”, while counselling 14-year-old Ashrafi (Faezeh Jalali), who has regressed to childish behaviour after her father’s death, and coaxing her brother Bilal (Karan Pandit) to steer clear of stone-throwing protestors even if it undermines his relationship with his football team – and thus the chance to play internationally.
Playwright Abhishek Majumdar has infused the disturbing reality with poetry, as Dr Beg, Ashrafi and Bilal engage in flights of dastangoi (narration of an Urdu epic romance), using the story of the heroic Amir Hamza journeying through the magical realm of djinns as an allegory for the Kashmir conflict. Despite the subplots, the transitions are smooth as characters slip between reality and fantasy, levity and seriousness. The action is tense and gripping, the plot unflinchingly morbid and hard-hitting.
Director Richard Twyman has drawn top-notch, heartrending performances from the talented cast. There are many haunting images, from the pacifist Dr Beg struggling with his love for his militant son (Ali Fazal) to the eerily astute Ashrafi babbling to her doll while two soldiers (Neil Bhoopalam and Ashwin Mushran) treat her as a threat.
Djinns of Eidgah succeeds beautifully at evoking the terrible experience of ordinary Kashmiris but ends up wearing its viewpoint too obviously on its sleeve. While allowing that militancy is not a foolproof answer, it suggests that the conflict carries the romance and grandeur of Hamza’s exploits. The play ends with almost a call to arms against the State, which is represented by two bumbling, parochial and panic-stricken soldiers – a provocative but also disappointingly easy conclusion. Perhaps theatregoers will heatedly discuss patriotism on their way home, but we suspect many more will respond as the 79-year-old retired army officer who sat next to us did to those who stood and clapped at the end: “If you’re standing for this, you’re standing against India.”
By Saumya Ancheri on March 30 2012 11.35am