Pagdi traces the life of a Sikh boy as he grapples with life, loss and love

Winner of the Toto Funds the Arts 2013 award for creative writing, Swetanshu Bora’s Pagdi debuted at Ranga Shankara in the first week of December. A bildungsroman, it follows the life of Dalwinder Singh Dhillon, a software engineer in Bangalore. Told in flashback, it traces his story from his time as a cricket-crazy boy on the streets of Amritsar, to his days as an engineering student in Delhi and onward to his job in the city. Along the way, he deals with life, loss and love while pursuing his ambition of realizing the American dream.

Partly inspired by Bora’s days as a software engineer, Pagdi is more than the story of a Sikh boy who grows up with the self-perceived burden of culture and its meaning. It also, and importantly, provides a name, face and back story to the teeming mass of people that have given Bangalore its technical prowess and nomenclatures. And although the story may be universal, Bora, who wrote and directed the play, employed novel theatrical devices that rendered it fresh. The story is relived by the protagonist and for the audience through retrospection. With minimal props and little set to speak of, the characters’ dialogue was sufficient to paint the portrait of a man at odds with his customs and himself. The lighting gorgeously accented this, especially in scenes such as the cricket one. And then there’s the narrative, in first person. While this tends to be limiting for the stage, Dramanon utilized it to the fullest by creating another character in the form of Dalwinder’s alter ego-him as a young boy. Complete with pagdi et al, the contrast between the two couldn’t be more startling and it serves as an effective visual reminder of just how much Dalwinder has evolved since his youth.

Samta Shikhar, playing a young Dalwinder, was an interesting casting choice. She suited the character well enough and was an effective foil to Vivek Vijaykumaran’s Dalwinder, but ultimately, paled in comparison. Vijaykumaran shone in his role, embodying simultaneously the anguish of his choices as well as a single-minded ambitiousness. But Pagdi did go wrong in places. It was paradoxically too general a story to be heralded as an insight into Sikh culture while, at the same time, the need to establish that the character is in fact Sikh was too pronounced and protracted. Mentions of a best friend named ‘Bunty’ are sandwiched between references to the Guru Grant Sahib and the Golden Temple.

The production needs to find the fine line between being and proclaiming. In the meantime though, it is a striking example of original writing. Pagdi is a journey of history personalized through memories. It is an envisioning of events like the 1984 Sikh riots and of symbols like the Sikh turban and their contemporary meanings. And just for that, it’s worth a watch- you’re sure to take something unique away from it.