Kashmir gamble: Review of Gasha, by Shanta Gokhale

Kashmir gamble

Gasha is one of the most significant plays to come to this city in recent times.It tells a story,yes.It makes us laugh,yes.But it also makes us feel and think and reflect.It connects us truthfully to a faraway people who have been battered by history and left to fend for themselves.It gives us a Kashmir not of chinar trees and shikaras,but of people trapped in an unyielding political situation.
Gasha looks at the Kashmir problem through the destinies of two childhood friends.Gasha is a Kashmiri Pandit whose family has fled the Valley.Nazir is a Muslim,who has of course stayed back.The play speaks not only of their survival,a gamble in itself,but of the tricks of memory,mutual distrust,the warping of relationships and,in the process,the loss of the idea of Kashmiriyat,that unique cultural,social and religious harmony that was once Kashmirs pride.
The occasion for looking back at all that has transpired since the years of pre-insurgency innocence,is Gashas return to Srinagar to visit Kheer Bhavani,the holiest of holy temples.Has he seen Nazir at the airport Was that Nazir or someone else With these questions we move back in time.Gasha and Nazir are young boys again.And out of their twin tales,Karnik constructs her richly layered play which reveals multiple aspects of the human predicament created by a complex political situation.
Abhishek Majumdars direction wholly supports this focus on human lives.There is no fancy set and no fancy costumes.There are instead,several interesting props that the actors can play around with.Chief amongst them are some half a dozen suitcases of different sizes and colours.While their presence symbolises travel,the different ways in which the actors move them around create interesting shifts in stage space.The suitcases,appropriately dressed up,also stand for several minor characters who inhabit the play.Every move and movement made on stage bears witness to Majumdar’s lively theatrical imagination.
The two actors,Adhir Bhat (Gasha) and Sandeep Shikhar (Nazir) play various other roles as well,including mothers,fathers,school teacher,temple attendant and pujari,by simply adding a symbolic piece of clothing to their otherwise neutral dress.In transforming themselves,they do not take the actors easy way out of creating character out of odd mannerisms or physical tics.They create them by becoming them in voice and body.What comes through in their performance is their total investment in the story they are telling and the conviction that this story must be told without actorly posturings.
As physical types,the actors are perfect foils for each other.Bhat is tall and very fair skinned.Shikhar is smaller and darker.Bhats largeness makes him a little inflexible.Shikhars smallness allows him to move with the fluidity of mercury.Together they dynamise the stage space with their energy.In the show I saw at Prithvi last week,their energy as young boys became a tad excessive at times with words tumbling over each other and bodies jumping and falling.However,there were quieter scenes too,the most poignant being the one at the airport,where Gasha waits impatiently to get away and Nazir,the loader makes a final gesture of friendship.He offers to load Gashas luggage last so he can claim it first on arrival.
The integrated impact of the writing,direction and performances in Gasha is proof of the long months of research,thinking and self-questioning that have gone into its making.But there is a fourth element that has,without doubt,also contributed to its unfaltering focus the presence in the team of a dramaturg,Subhashim Goswami.
A few months ago I had written a column about the importance of dramaturgy in the process of play-making,rueing the fact that this function had not found a place in our theatre yet.So how had Goswamis inclusion come about Apparently he came in as an observer for an independent research project he was engaged in.But soon he got so involved in the process of playmaking,that he moved from being a mere observer to becoming a participant in discussions.He offered inputs,asked crucial questions and did everything that a dramaturg does,becoming,in effect,a fourth member of the team.Together this team has ensured that Gasha never falsifies the story of the Kashmiri people by politicising,romanticising or sentimentalising it.This,to me,is its biggest virtue.


SHANTA GOKHALE

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