(Pictured: Sangeeta Gupta and Loveleen Kaur)
The 1984 Project’s description for Global Connections–ON the ROAD:
Mashuq Deen is traveling with Meetu Chilana and Rita Suri to Amritsar, Chandigarh and Delhi, India to work with Roopak Kala and Welfare Society, a theatre troupe and social activist organization, on the development of a work about the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 and to engage in dialogue with those most affected by the massacre. This post was originally shared on the blog, “The 1984 Project”. We’re reposting it here to highlight the work of Global Connections grantees and their collaborators.
Roopak Revolutionaries in Chandigarh:
Roopak & Kala Welfare Society is a theater company led by two women, Sangeeta Gupta and Loveleen Kaur. Both have bucked the societal pressure to get married, and instead have devoted themselves to making feminist theater in Chandigarh and touring in surrounding villages. In the week we were there, their theater festival tackled the following issues: The first play was about a woman who was sold to a man who treated her like property; the second was about an outcast, a hijra, who falls in love with an alcoholic, and after his death earns the respect of the town; and the third play, MAA, is an adaptation of Maxim Gorki’s play about revolution.
Sangeeta and Loveleen are interested in making theater about social issues, and each play showed this, though the last was particularly powerful, with the actors appealing to the audience, red flags waving. It reminded me of what theater must have been like in the early days of the Group Theater, when entertainment was not the foremost reason to stage play. I was really inspired by their work and their commitment.
Sangeeta facetiously calls the two of them terrorists, but I would call them revolutionaries.
(Pictured: Meetu Chilana and Rita Suri interview for The 1984 Project)
Facing the Wizengamot:
On one afternoon in Chandigarh, Sangeeta and Loveleen coordinated with their mentor, Dr. Atamjit, a well-known Punjabi playwright, to host a reading of my play in progress — currently titled 1984, set during the anti-Sikh riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. He in turn invited a number of intellectuals to join us, and what ensued felt very much like sitting before the Wizengamot (if you’ll pardon the Harry Potter reference). The median age was probably close to 75.
We read the play between the three of us, Meetu playing a whole scene by herself at one point, as is the custom here (the writer reading the play out loud by herself). It was a unique experience. There is a lot I could say about the manner of comments received: the differences between how we structure developmental feedback in the States and the no-holds-barred manner of feedback here…
(I imagine I seemed to these wizened writers and professors — many with long flowing beards — as a young upstart from the States…)
But what struck me most was the different way we saw theater. A quote from human rights scholar James Dawes’ book, Evil Men (in which he conducts interviews with Japanese soldiers about war crimes), puts it well:
“Robert Eaglestone, in a rather sweeping but nonetheless useful and insightful way, summarizes ethical criticism then and now as comprising two camps: those … who see literary texts as forms of clarifying “moral reasoning” that reflect and inform our lives and cultivate our ethical responsibilities; and those that are influenced by deconstruction… who argue that literature offers nothing like clear moral reasoning but rather an experience of “undecidability” that is ethical precisely insofar as it interrupts our relationship with confident ethical knowledge.”
I was struck by Dr. Atamjit and his comment that I wasn’t clear about what I was saying with the play, as if I wasn’t leaving the audience with a clear message or moral. He was not alone in thinking this. Whereas I see my role as playwright as one of asking questions, rather than offering answers.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do theater. I don’t think of myself as a deconstructionist… but I guess I do see my job as ”interrupting” the way people see the world, inviting them to open to something new and unknown, something that comes from inside their hearts, not from inside mine.
But then again, at 37, I probably am a “young” upstart. I’m not entirely sure my kind of theater would fly with this wizengamot. And that’s alright. We can learn from each other nonetheless.
1984 Project Collaborators
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