“Burnt Memories” blends a grimy past with the fruitless present.
“Burnt Memories” awakens gnawing wounds stitched up by time and leaves them gaping. History swims over personal odyssey, the past lingers as an unwelcome guest and the present pushes in pricking episodes here. A first from the newly-formed The Free Parking Theatre Company, “Burnt Memories” staged at Alliance Francaise deals with partition and migration on a bigger canvas without diluting individual stories. Love, loss, desire, envy, treachery, murder and manipulation pepper the tale even as it rings in the mindless violence of partition and the woes of the first generation immigrants to Europe.
“Burnt Memories,” designed and directed by Feisal Alkazi, traces the voyage of Balbir and Manmohan, friends who are more like siblings and have spent a childhood together in the fields of Punjab. Partition and its violence have left searing scars on their stories. Their lives take on a different trajectory as they migrate to London to save their land in Punjab.
If Balbir veers to an acerbic path, discarding the symbols of his Sikh identity, Manmohan moves onto a lacklustre routine, going through the drudgery of the factory like a robot. Jane, a sex worker, enters Balbir’s life, but it is the arrival of Manmohan’s wife Surinder at their single-room accommodation that dissolves the honesty between the men.
The distance between the two is sealed by a murder. The play travels across time, through one’s meteoric rise and the other’s resignation to a pile of losses.
“Burnt Memories” simultaneously pans back to the battered lives of those who unleashed violence during partition. In a scramble towards the border, they are left yearning for the simple joys of life left behind. The play throws up questions on the worth of actions, both historical and personal. Performed by a cast largely drawn from Delhi University, “Burnt Memories” brought to the stage earnest acting.
The play keeps you engaged through the most part and it is only a few moments in the second act that appear stretched. It also brings audacity to the stage, especially in the portrayal of a physical relationship between Balbir and Jane. “Burnt Memories” touched upon the elements used to shock — violence and sex, yet the instances in which it seemed to over-arch were few. The sets create an ambience well.
The Free Parking Theatre Company, formed couple of months ago, chooses to call itself a “radical” theatre group. But founding director Pranay Manchanda is quick to add, “We aren’t a group that has one political ideology.” The members, says Manchanda, intend to be radical in their desire to appeal to every section of society, rising above niche audiences and creating a viable alternative to entertainment, beyond cinema.
They may want their theatre to be entertaining, but their first production showed they don’t compromise on content either. Though there is nothing political about their theatre, they promise to bring different issues to their stage. The company’s name is aimed at making theatre available for all.
“Theatre can be done by anybody. It needs talent, but that can also be substituted by hard work and dedication. As many can freely park themselves in our company,” says Manchanda. It was started by Manchanda and his friends , Kabir Nath and Arnav Nanduri — all students. However, Manchanda insists there is no attempt to restrict the membership to students alone.
With the first production staged to full houses, the company is getting into its second play , a comedy.
For veteran Feisal Alkazi, in tune with directing children and youngsters, “Burnt Memories” and its cast brought in a pleasant realisation. “Three of them had acted with me since they were seven. Now they are 20. It was impossible to refuse them,” says Alkazi.
On choosing “Burnt Memories”, Alkazi adds, “I gave 20 scripts and asked them to choose. I did not want to impose my kind of play on them. They chose the grimmest of the grim.” The original script penned by Harbant Bans and intended for a Western audience was adapted considerably for the Indian stage.
This production in Punjabi/English/Hindi provoked a lot of thought, says Alkazi. According to the director, for the university students used to the migration of IT professionals, the play made them aware of the hardships endured by immigrants 50 years ago when they joined the lowest end of the spectrum in a new country.
“For the older people in the audience, especially those who came from Lahore and Karachi, it had a totally different resonance,” says Alkazi about the other issue in the play — Partition.