Leading playwrights of South Asian descent gathered here for the book launch of a collection of 11 plays, including one named ‘Bhopal’, capturing varied themes like race, ethnic conflict and socio-economic upheavals faced by immigrant communities.
The book, ‘Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora’ showcased writers of South Asian descent from the UK, South Africa, Canada and the US, the four main English-speaking regions of the Diaspora.
The book launch was integrated into a two-day event that included recitals of excerpts, discussions on featured work, and on development of South Asian theatre companies in different countries.
An internationally acclaimed playwright of Tamil lineage, Govender, captures the life of the South African Indian community during the decades of institutionalised racism in the country.
Closer to home, Rahul Varma’s play called ‘Bhopal’, relives the political turmoil and human suffering behind the disaster, after 25 years. The play was performed, a few years ago, in India as “Zahreeli Hawa.”
The Bhopal gas tragedy took place at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal on December 3, 1984, when toxic gas leak led to the death of thousands of people.
The rich subject-matter reflects the diverse selection of dramatists like South African Ronnie Govender, British Asian Rukhsana Ahmad, and Indian-born actor Aasif Mandvi, who shot to fame in US as a comic correspondent on The Daily Show.
The editor of the book, Neilesh Bose, described the plays as “historical pieces”. ‘Lahnees Pleasure’ was the first to have Indians on stage in South Africa. A historian of modern South Asia, Bose, said that his objective was to “document these works for a wider audience”.
Another play out of South Africa, ‘Working Class Hero’ by Kessie Govender, explores Indian racist attitudes towards black Africans. The writer, a pioneering voice in South African protest theatre, passed away in 2002.
The forum also presented an opportunity for the artists to talk about their personal struggles in establishing and promoting ethnic theatre companies in their home countries.
The oldest South Asian British theatre company, Tara Arts, founded by theatre veteran Jatinder Verma, has created a distinctive Binglish style of mixing up Asian aesthetics with the British performing arts community.
The playwrights consider these efforts to be instrumental, in giving artistic expression to the trepidations and triumphs of the South Asian Diaspora all over the world.