SNA awardee Kewal Dhaliwal’s Punjabi play “Gaddi Charan Di Kaahal Bari Si”, staged in New Delhi recently, brought out well the plight of illegal immigrants.

The basic characteristics of Kewal Dhaliwal’s theatre are the intensity of emotions, imaginative use of draperies to create visual poetry and a scant décor to be in tune with the leitmotif of the play. The acting style he envisages for his actors is marked by a strong motive and vitality to establish an emotional chord with the audience.

These aspects were very much in evidence in his production of “Gaddi Charan Di Kaahal Bari Si” in Punjabi, a part of the Festival of Performing Arts featuring works of the recipients of Akademi awardees organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi at Abhimanch in New Delhi recently. Remarkable for its focus on the plight of people who attempt to migrate illegally to make it big in foreign countries, the production has overpowering emotional appeal. At another level, it severely indicts the unscrupulous agents who trade in human miseries.

A graduate of National School of Drama and a committed theatre artist, Kewal has immensely contributed to the professional theatre movement in Punjab. He has received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2013 for his contribution to Indian theatre as director.

Kewal has drawn the title of his play from the poetry of Surjit Patar, the renowned Punjabi poet, to symbolise the disillusioned young people in Punjab attempting to go to foreign countries by resorting to illegal means. In most cases, their quest turns out to be a chimera, culminating in eternal hell. With this central theme, Kewal has dramatised four short stories by significant Punjabi writers. To harmonise these different stories into an artistic whole, he has created the character of Sutradhar and between the changes of scenes Patar’s poetry rendered by a chorus to the accompaniment of beats of drum is used which enrich the emotional power of the production.

The play opens with the dramatic version of the short story “Sukh di Ghari” by Baldev Singh Dhinsa. Rotting in a German jail, the victim writes to his father back home, recounting his torturous journey from India to Germany as an illegal immigrant. He is transported from one place to another in a box to avoid being detected by the Police. He recalls the way a goat in his village is kept in a wide open box. His condition was worse than the goat. In this process, he has lost all his dignity and is worse than an animal — just a lifeless object.

The second story enacted is “Pailan Paunda Sap” by Jaswinder Singh. It depicts the shameless manner a husband is forcing his wife to stage a fake marriage ritual with another man to be able to secure her visit to the country in which he is working. Anguished with the conduct of her husband, the woman retaliates. The husband takes pride in adopting a modus operandi to outsmart immigration authorities. He is happy that his wife can leave the country with her fake husband. Through the encounter between, the husband and the wife, the petty mind of the husband and his shameless act is revealed as well as the dilemma of the wife who hates her husband.

Harpreet Sekha’s short story “Ram Gau” deals with the life of a headmaster in a village in Punjab who is respected by the villages and revered by his students. His voice has great weight in the affairs of the village. His family members are settled in Canada. Now that he has retired from service, he is invited by his kith and kin to stay with them in Canada. As soon as the initial excitement of living with his family members subsides, the headmaster is metamorphosed into a stray cow that nobody looks after, everyone shoos him away. Now the headmaster becomes desperate to leave Canada and return to his roots but nobody listens to him. He has lost his freedom, respect and friends; he is a lonely figure, lifeless.

The condition of women among the illegal immigrants are the worst. This heartbreaking reality is reflected in the dramatised version “Galat Aurat” by Veena Verma. The play revolves round an ambitious and beautiful girl who is educated and has dreams of marrying a well-placed and respected young man. Considering a young man working in a foreign country most suitable bridegroom for her daughter, her father marries her off to a Youngman settled abroad. After the marriage is solemnised, he stays for few days with the bride. During this brief period, the girl gets conceived and later gives birth to a male child. The husband leaves her with the promise that he would soon come back with the essential papers and would take her with him. But years have passed and he doesn’t return. Forced by circumstances, the woman leaves India with her son to meet her husband with forged documents. Facing hardships and indignities that are in store for illegal immigrants, she is subjected to rape by different men at difference places. By the time the brute and rapacious agents manage surreptitiously to arrange a meeting between her husband and herself, she is reduced to a miserable wreak. Her husband refuses to recognize her, leaving her in the lurch and be destroyed by wolves in the form of men.

Pavel Sandhu as the prisoner in a jail in Germany; Gurinder Makna as the headmaster migrated to Canada and Mandeep Kaur as the victim of unscrupulous agents desperate to meet her husband, impart to their portraits emotional depth and truly live their characters with riveting performances to grab the attention of the audience.