For me Gasha turned out to be a curious sound. Pronounced as Gaa-Sh-Aa it is the name of the latest play produced by the Bangalore based theater group Indian Ensemble. As a nominated entry under several categories (including Best Play and Best Director) at the ongoing theater festival organised by the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, it was performed last evening at the Kamani Auditorium. The production tries to explore the convoluted frames of the conflictual socio-political zone i.e. Kashmir and makes an earnest attempt at laying bare the subjectivity and the everyday lives of people severely affected by the ongoing conflict in the region. The only two actors we see on stage are Adhir Bhatt (as Gasha) and Sandeep Shikhar (as Nazir). Gasha is the attempt by the scriptwriter Irawati Karnik to bring to light the various facets that come to constitute the fate of two childhood friends. Gasha and Nazir are neighbors from a locality in Srinagar who are separated because of Gasha’s family leaving Srinagar for Mumbai in the wake of ‘militancy’. The narrative goes back and forth in time. Gasha’s family revisits their hometown after a gap of twenty years for the ritual worship of the much revered deity Kheer Bhavani. At the Srinagar airport, Gasha chances upon a loader whom he identifies as Nazir. The encounter makes him think of events past and of the days gone by. For the audience it is a pleasant and yet a very serious detour across the landscape of such remembrance.
Needless to say that the script beautifully peels quite a few layers deep into a number of issues. The director Abhishek Majumdar succeeds in making Bhatt and Shekhar impeccably don the role of several characters- of children in a classroom, of Bukhari sir- their teacher, of Gula- the Muslim attendant at the Kheer Bhavani shrine, of the angry-old controlling Arjun Mama and the most endearing of them all- Dadi Jaan. An innovative stage design, intelligent handling of the lights, an apt sound arrangement and a minimalist use of stage props are other noticeable aspects of this production.
Apart from making for insightful angles from which to look at the Kashmir issue, the play leaves the audience with interesting material for further reflection. The characters for instance ask some very evocative questions in jest, as exclamations or dumb anguishes, satires or even as morose ramblings. Notice Gasha’s mother asking- “Bhala Koi Churaai Hui Kaaleen Pe Namaaz Kaise Padh Sakta Hai?” (How can anyone offer prayers on a stolen carpet?) or Arjun Mama asking Gasha “Daikin badi company kaise ho sakti hai jab maine uska naam hi nahin suna?” (How can Daikin be a big company when I have not even heard its name?” and further on “Tu Kashmir ka Mausam bechta hai?” (You are selling the weather of Kashmir) referring to Gasha’s job in a company that manufactures air conditioners. All the more funny is Arjun Mama scolding a seemingly uninterested Gasha to concentrate in prayers before the Goddess and to “feel the tiger”!
I see the play to be about the problems with our reliance on memory as a tool to reconstruct and make sense of all that happened years ago. It presents in vivid details the ways in which children make sense of their world. There is this just right dose of genuine comedy sprinkled all across the duration of the play. The ways in which violence gets appropriated by the imagination of a child is well documented through very subtle injunctions in the script and in facial expressions that aptly correspond to it. Where should a child play and where should he study, what has happened to schools in Kashmir post militancy and what are the possible future careers that the ‘unschooled’ children in Kashmir will have in the years to come, Gasha is a nuanced comment on all these social issues.
Yes, the briefcases as props seem too many in some scenes, they are dragged too often on the wooden floor, the repeated falls and the thuds of the actors at times insert a break in the flow. Despite these glitches, Gasha is a play that has a message, ranks high on entertainment quotient and oozes a meaning that might require repeated attempts in order to be gleaned. I sincerely hope that the team comes up with more such creative productions and do the little possible so as to bring sanity back to where it belongs. In troubled times, sanity often happens to be the resource that becomes scarce. Even when available, it gets under or over-represented in discourse. The impact of counter currents that an artistic work like Gasha is capable of creating remains to be estimated. I wish this team all the very best for its future productions.