“Beech Shahar” focuses on the underlying fears and uneasiness of a city and its people shaken by violence.
“Beech Shahar” leaves you with a quaint unease. Unease at its grey tone, the fragmentary narrative, silences waiting to be punctured and a sense of the incomplete.
The play, directed by Tripurari Sharma and Aditee Biswas and staged at the National School of Drama the past week, hinges on the aftermath of the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002.
Time may have elapsed, yet wounds are raw and fear never far away. Piercingly fluorescent blue lights create specks on plain white boxes as the play begins. The tune played is decidedly eerie and the sense of brooding never leaves the air. Sketches in grey and black of buildings, a name plate that says Ehsan Jafri and police striding the streets make the backdrop.
For Tripurari, the seeds for the play lay in a “small” news report in an “informal” paper, as she calls it. A man who ran a local brewery in Ahmedabad turned out to be the rescuer for many during the riots, giving them shelter for about four months.
“During the 1984 riots, there were a lot of us who wanted to do many things, but could do nothing,” Tripurari says about a disturbing aspect of Delhi's history.
Though the story in itself was impressive for Tripurari, constant visits to Gujarat told her it would not work in isolation.
An urge for “upward mobility,” especially among the middle class, carpets gnawing silences and underlying tension, she says.
A linear narrative is junked often, and the result is rather a bunch of instances. Characters are nameless and the divisions are of the offenders and the victims. Neighbours who have turned murderers, the offenders who are in vehement denial, the fear the victims hardly ever give a name to — all make the sub stories.
There is still jingoistic portrayal of strength from the offenders, while the victims take solace in the fact that the “doors are locked.” This, says Tripurari, is because “introspection has not taken place…the confidence of a community is shaken, but there is still no healing.”
“Beech Shahar”, purely a workshop production, brought in inputs from all the actors and their experiences. The director is aware of the flaws of a total workshop creation. “We all internalise and objectivity becomes less,” she says. “It has its limits, but when we take up something complex it enables you to address the issues,” she adds.
The play, at times, becomes a barrage of episodes, with the story of the brewer itself taking shape quite late. The symbols are at times stark, like that of Ehsan Jafri's name, while the concept of memory deduced to a handicapped girl in a uniform forever carried on the back, tends to be a little hazy. Yet, “Beech Shahar” rankles with what it leaves unsaid, the divisions still wide open.