A political commentary on war-ravaged Iraq with a love story woven into it

Baghdad Wedding

Performed by: Akvarious Productions

Date: August 19

Venue: Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Chetpet

Iraq after Saddam and reeling in the aftermath of a devastating war — it’s a story etched in the public imagination. As images and stories flooded the television and print media, and continue to do so today, it has been impossible to not be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the violence and the collateral damage it inflicts, as war spills over from political into personal spaces. It is this inevitable intersection of public and private lives that forms the basis for Akvarious Productions’ Baghdad Wedding. Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak’s very first play, the Akvarious production walked away with three awards at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards this year, including Best Play and Best Ensemble.

Two men and a woman who have spent all their adult lives in London return to a ravaged Baghdad, a city in limbo, where they are forced to grapple with issues of identity and belonging. Where they must recognise their country’s supposed liberators and understand the realities of an Iraqi existence. Into this teeming political commentary is inset a love story. And the narrative that starts with a disastrous wedding looks as if it will end with one as well. Director Akarsh Khurana treats the city of Baghdad with as much importance as though it is a separate character in the play and succeeds in serving a powerful piece of theatre.

Director’s Cut – Akarsh Khurana

Although you discovered Baghdad Wedding some years ago, you said at that time you did not feel “ready” to direct it. What made you feel prepared to take it on now?

I fell in love with the script the moment I read it. I also immediately realised that it would pose many challenges. I felt I needed time. To understand the milieu better; to push the envelope in other productions in terms of stagecraft; and to find the right cast. So it was at the back of my mind constantly, and I was constantly scouting for actors and information. I suppose a production has its own destiny. Slowly and steadily, things started falling into place. People I approached felt similarly towards the script. This boosted my confidence as well, as did some research and pre-production work.

Indian theatre often uses Western scripts and struggles with issues of milieu, language and accent. Was it refreshing to deal with a culturally closer Iraqi script?

I cannot deny that Iraq is culturally closer to us but, at the same time, it is a different world with a unique ambience. It was critical to create that. I never wanted it to seem like it could have been as easily set in, say, Kashmir. For me, Baghdad was an important character in the play. As such, we did have to tackle milieu, language, accent and costumes, but I guess it’s easier to buy into Iraqi characters (as played by Indians) than perhaps British or American or Russian characters. Personally, I think the human story that forms the core of the script transcends all these concerns and is easy to relate to across the globe. Also, yes, one of the play's themes is how expats feel towards their homeland, which again is universal.

I believe the play is set to be made into a film soon. Which medium do you think suits the script more?

The play script is almost screenplay-like even now. It always seemed like a film waiting to happen. And there are no limits to how inventive the imagery can be. But then again, as I said, it is a tale that will work across mediums.