Direction : Abhishek Majumdar
Writer : Irawati Karnik
Cast : Adhir Bhat & Sandeep Shikhar

GASHA Play Review

Deepa Punjani

 GASHA Review
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Belonging and going away, remembering and forgetting, return and redemption -these hallmarks of migration take on special significance for those whose journeys have been forced and whose lives radically change in tumultuous, dangerous and terribly uncertain circumstances. GASHA, written by Irawati Karnik and directed by Abhishek Majumdar, is one such story located in Kashmir. It highlights the childhood and adolescence of a Kashmiri Pandit boy who had to leave with his family, as his home was no longer secure with the rise in the insurgency and militancy in Kashmir. The boy's story can be placed in continuum of the various mass displacements in history along sectarian lines of religion and race, exacerbated by war and petty politics.


When Gasha (Adhir Bhat) returns to his native home in Kashmir, he thinks he spots his close, childhood friend Nazir (Sandeep Shikhar) handling the luggage at Srinagar's airport. His past life begins to unravel. Boyhood memories are recalled - mostly happy with the usual mischief. Gasha and Nazir seem inseparable until one fateful day when it is clear that the safety of Gasha's family has been imperiled. Kashmir has changed - for Nazir and his folk too, except that the writer prefers to keep the spotlight on Gasha. We visualise the fraught backdrop through the eyes of the two young boys who encounter death in the form of a stray dog riddled with bullets, the martyrdom of their teacher, and the passing away of their younger schoolmate, caught in a crossfire, whom only moments before they had bullied like children are prone to do.

The attempt to construct this beautiful yet tense region through the eyes of a child has an affecting quality to it. The red kiddie booties woven of wool placed in the foreground emphasise this innocent bewilderment in a design cluttered by random suitcases. The suitcases carry the world of adulthood, of travel, of journeys - physical and internal, and ultimately symbolise Nazir's own trajectory from boy to man in Kashmir. We never really know Nazir's story but the distinctions in the professions of the two boys as they have grown up are stark. Gasha has returned as an executive working for an international air conditioning company while Nazir, married and with child, is a luggage handler.

For Gasha, the inescapable journey home, reveals the close ties his family once had with Nazir's family. The upkeep of his family's temple known to Kashmiri Pandits far and wide is still managed by a Muslim. Here and then, the play seeks to remind us that human lives are more intertwined than ideology or politics would have us believe. Irawati Karnik places the two men in the centre of their stories and outside. They are at once characters as well as actors rehearsing their parts. Both Adhir Bhat and Sandeep Shikhar who also essay multiple roles in the story are good actors and riff well. Between them they manage enough moments of humour in a story, which is otherwise pensive. Yet their act is overdone. It barely allows us pause or deeper reflection.

The play's edifice is delicate and it appears that the two actors are holding it up, which makes the proceedings prolonged and the inherent limitations of the writing apparent. Majumdar's direction is tuned to Payal Wadhwa's scenography, emphasising the 'in transit' nature of the displaced and the dispossessed. This is a sensitive play but the full scope of its sensitivity eludes us. We are touched but rarely moved.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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