Being an engineering student, I was never interested in theatre. I attended The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest only because a friend urged me to. But, those 100 minutes changed the way I look at life. The play The Djinns of Eidgah was so mind-numbing that it got me thinking about the Kashmir issue. “Doctor Saab”, “Shefu”, “Bilaal” and the “Hindu Soldier” — the characters are unforgettable. The sound, lights and props were apt, and the scene-changes near perfect. The play deserved the standing ovation it got.
Abhishek Majumdar, director of The Djinns of Eidgah, has managed to convey the message that sanity is a luxury in Kashmir. Rajit Kapur, who plays Dr Beg, the chief protagonist, constantly tries to maintain sanity in the valley, all the while appealing against the futility of war. Ashrafi, flawlessly played by Faezeh Jalali, takes you on a rollercoaster emotional ride. The sibling relationship between her and Bilal is endearing. The sequences between Dr. Beg and his dead son Junaid create soul-stirring moments. Junaid symbolises the youth of today who get trapped in senseless ideologies. The moment when the jawan spits on Dr. Beg is hard-hitting, leaving the audience shaken.
Silence spoke volumes
The Djinns of Eidgah subtly addressed numerous sensitive issues about Kashmir, The setting was simple. Who would have thought that one curtain could be used so variably — to depict the night sky, to portray the moon, to symbolise the inside and outside of a room? And if that was not enough, the rearrangement of the props was integrated into the play so naturally that it made the transition between scenes exceptionally smooth! This was a play where silence spoke volumes; so much that I found myself jumping in my seat when the occasional bullets were fired!
I am lost for words to describe the acting, but then, one could expect no less from actors of such calibre! The setting, the silences, the subtle nuances and apt background score made the spell cast by The Djinns more intense.
Of shattered dreams
Mainstream debates about Kashmir tend to be either overtly jingoistic or anti-militaristic in nature. The Djinns of Eidgah rises above these simplistic approaches and takes a critical look at the issue, offering us a rare glimpse into the quagmire that is Kashmir. With an intense, powerful script performed to perfection by a seasoned cast, the play shook me out of my blasé attitude. Above all, the play paints a heart-rending picture of a land of broken people and their shattered dreams. This definitely has to be one of the finest Indian plays in recent years.
Kashmiriyat is all about the people of Kashmir and the choice that they have to make in a land torn between the strife on the streets and the aspirations of a people who yearn for freedom. This was beautifully portrayed, on the one hand, by Dr. Baig in wanting to negotiate with the Indians on Eid and, on the other, by Vani his student who pelts stones at the security forces, her son by her side. Is it at all possible to retain one's sanity in such circumstances? Is there any other choice but to retain one’s sanity in such troubled times? This paradox seemed to form the premise of the story. Along the way, the Idgah, the Djinns and the sighting of the Eid moon were wonderful allegories that backed powerful performances by the cast. The dilemma of the security forces provided comic relief in an otherwise dark play. The costumes and the guns transported the viewers to a Kashmir we have grown up observing — a paradise lost.
The Djinns of Eidgah is a web of interwoven narratives, with one central thread connecting them all — conflict. The strife in the Kashmir valley results in identity crises, forcing each character to face his inner demons — be it the doctor-diplomat with a Mujahideen son, the nurse who oddly felt relief when she pelted stones at “those Indians,” or the young footballer with his irreconcilable dreams of freedom and familial responsibility. This duality is also mirrored by the beaded curtain used to literally portray layering within the story. Despite the minimalist sets, which comprised just this curtain and some essential props, the play transported us to the midst of the conflict with its haunting silences, broken by panicked cries, muffled sobs, background riots, and occasional gunfire. With the stellar script ably aided by poignant performances, this microcosmic picture of the plight of Kashmir was simultaneously riveting, touching and disturbing.
Leela Senthil Nathan
The Djinns… is the sort of play one should watch without inhibitions about its quality. The story is about the people of Kashmir and their problems. The symbolism was ingenious, the dialogue intense. The acting was top-notch and the production design simple to the point of sophistication. The self-indulgent boasting and superficial intellectualism spurred viewers to battle with their conscience. It was hard for them not to like the fine package.
Djinns are genies or spirits that have magical abilities, the kind of magic that the actors channelled through their performance, bringing alive an engaging story on the most controversial topic in our country — Kashmir. The Djinns of Eidgah stood out for its political and personal layers, for that rare quality that differentiates good plays from great.
The Djinns primarily looks at Kashmir from different perspectives — the troubled Doctor Sahib wanting to end the unceasing violence, the unflinching Bilal who sees football as a means of escape for him and his traumatised sister, and the Indian soldiers who are in hell, but have only just realised it.
And yet the play is not just about Kashmir, but about the universal theme of trying to find identity within chaos, experiencing doubt fuelled by guilt and regret and how one never really gets away from one’s past, making it that much more intense and special.
India has seen a few terror strikes, and is well aware of its horrors, but to think about an entire that valley that lives in the shadow of terror every single day and to portray such a sensitive issue, without taking sides requires guts. The Djinns of Eidgah, does this very wisely and symbolically. An excellent depiction of the Kashmir situation, it leaves the audience pondering over the subject for a long time.
A fantastically human tale narrated with sensitivity and imagination. The mystical djinns talk to little Ashrafi, becoming a vehicle for her to travel through the surreal world they populate. Bilal, her brother, is caught between protecting her and fighting for the land, which, he is persuaded to think by his people, is rightfully his. In the end, there is only loss of innocence, and the ugly politics of violence which takes over their lives. The final sighting of the moon may well be the metaphor for a ray of hope for humanity, yet the play leaves an unsettling feeling with its searing intensity. The set and lighting created a sense of magical realism from where it is believable that Djinns and humans might talk to each other. Two characters stood out, Jalali as the tormented Ashrafi — simply brilliant, and Bhoopalam as the Hindu soldier, who perfectly captured the underlying terror of the play.
Fuelled by an intense script, The Djinns of Eidgah is a tale of tortured souls in Kashmir, who are connected by powerful emotions, existing in a morbid environment. With an outstanding ensemble cast, the play fluently introduces us to the diverse characters, making us understand the history of each person and giving us an insight into why certain actions take place, which suggests that there is no right or wrong, no good or bad. The Djinns, caught between two dimensions, trapped in a limbo, are restless souls in this brutal, dark and disturbingly realistic play which is overwhelming.
Good script, well-enacted
The script dealt sensitively with the Kashmir issue. The ‘in between’ feeling (of belonging neither to India nor Pakistan) the people of Kashmir experience, was brought out well. Kashmir's woes, narrated through a difficult and fragmented script, was ably handled by Rajit Kapur and his team. As the intricacies of the plot unfolded, the play turned out to be very powerful.
Rajit Kapur took centre-stage in The Djinns of Eidgah — a political drama on Kashmir. His nuanced and formidable performance drew you into the heart of the valley with its lingering questions over loss of identity. A gripping commentary on a younger generation growing up in the shadow of fear and terror. The performances of the girl with her doll Hafeez and her brother were poignant. You had a foreboding of the sad end of the youth in the play. The haunting djinns were metaphors for one’s innermost desires, conceived when unable to cope with reality. The people seemed suspended between two worlds, clinging to their cultural identity of Kashmiriyat and fighting for azad-Kashmir. Be it the innocent Faezeh Jalali playing the sister or the Hanuman-worshipping soldier, the actors were convincing. It took some time to get used to the seamless merging of scenes but it was done efficiently. The play shook one’s conscience. There were flaws but the direction more than made up for them. A reality check for a largely metropolitan audience insulated from the ground realities in Kashmir.
V. Vamsi Viraj
Asking many questions
I felt as if I was a Djinn — an invisible spirit; however, the one exerting a supernatural influence on me was the haunting performance by the cast of The Djinns of Eidgah. Rajit Kapur and Faezeh Jalali especially shone as Dr. Baig and Ashrafi. The partitioned stage served to blur the real and the imagined from what the playwright intended to convey and what I wanted to believe. The search for the football shoes from the bodies was one of the most heart wrenching scenes ever created on a stage.
Throughout the play, it was hard to be a dispassionate observer when fresh questions were raised about who constituted “we”. The dilemma lingered even after the darkness of the night was over. It was a brilliant work by Rage Productions and they definitely deserved the standing ovation they received from the audience.
Sabari Rajan Karmegam
A reality that’s universal
A power-packed play, it was somewhat difficult to focus on the story as it allowed the audience to transport themselves to an imaginary world, making them visualise the happenings from their own perspective. The description of “freedom” by Dr.Baig’s assistant, the play of illusion between Dr. Baig and Ashrafi and the memories of Junaid left the audience spellbound. The play analysed aspects such as the thin line between stupidity and insanity, solidarity and fanaticism. It was difficult to comprehend the multi-layered characters. Only after watching the play did one realise the dilemma faced by the “in-betweens”. In the post-play interactive session with the actors, the comment by actor Faezeh Jalali (Ashrafi) seemed very appropriate –“it is the specificity of the situation that makes it universal”; the play indeed was universal.
Food for thought
The Djinns of Eidgah is one of those rare plays that reflect the conviction of its script in every scene. Brilliantly capturing the long-standing Kashmir conflict through the eyes and hearts of two children, it exposes the internal strife and struggle for identity faced by the people of Kashmir in its crudest form, yet maturely handling a sensitive issue.
The attention to detail in the sets with some excellent production work is worth a mention. The apt background score complemented the powerful scenes. The actors struck an unforgettable chord with the audience, leaving them spell-bound with their flawless performance, providing serious food for thought.
The Djinns…is a complicated story that requires knowledge of the Kashmir issue to understand it. The performance was commendable, and the transition between reality and illusion seamless. The team deserved the standing ovation it got for bringing out such an intense subject so excellently. The audience was left to arrive at its own interpretation and draw its own inferences. A 600-page book, told in 120 minutes, that raised a hundred questions.