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For greener pastures

ROMESH CHANDER

Kewal Dhaliwal's Punjabi play "Gaddi Charhan Di Kaahal Bari Si" staged at Shri Ram Centre recently, is one of the best presentations from Punjab.



INNOVATIVE PLAYS A scene from "Gaddi Charhan Di Kaahal Bari Si".

Kewal Dhaliwal is one of those few top alumni of National School of Drama who after graduating was not lured by the film world but went back to his roots to take theatre to the people. After leaving NSD, he went straight back to Amritsar to set up Manch-Rangmanch and dedicated himself to the development of what he called "pro-people" theatre in Punjab. To date he has produced about 150 plays and his seminal contributions include the presentation of poetry of some of the well known Punjabi poets like Hashin Shah, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Surjit Patar and Pash apart from new presentations of classics like "Mirza Sahiban" and Joginder Mahrala's "Harian Saunian". This critic has had an opportunity of seeing some of Dhaliwal's presentations like that of "Mirza Sahiban" and the one based on Shiv Kumar Batalvi's poetry. Both the presentations opened up new poetic avenues for exploration by theatre directors.

Thanks to Punjabi Academy, this past week, we saw at Shri Ram Centre Manch-Rangmanch's latest Punjabi play "Gaddi Charhan Di Kaahal Bari Si" (In a Hurry to Catch a Train), directed and designed by Kewal Dhaliwal.

The presentation is based on four well-known Punjabi stories. Baldev Singh Bhindsa's "Sukh Di Ghari", Jaswinder Singh's "Palian Paunds Sap", Harpal Sikha's "Ram Gau" and Veena Verma's "Galut Aurat" with Surjit Patar's poetry thrown in to embellish the presentation. All the stories have a common theme - problems and lives of illegal immigrants after they leave the Indian shores. The play is not just a story built around different characters who are on a "journey to an illusive paradise" but more so of thousands of new impoverished old parents who took loans to pay the agents and of young wives who are abandoned in favour of foreign women as, for instance, in Veena Verma's "Galat Aurat". Today this phenomenon has became a major socio-economic problem in Punjab and no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Illegal immigrants

Ironically these illegal immigrants never reach the paradise of their dreams; instead for most it is a life of exploitation and inhuman conditions of fugitive existence. Back home it is the never ending debt trap for the parents and social exploitation for the wives left behind.

Dhaliwal's production design by and large underlines the hazards of the journey and exploitation by scores of handlers in different countries. In "Galat Aurat", he most sensitively underlines the experience of the wife Mandeep Kaur on her way to join her husband in Germany. And finally when her handler delivers her to her husband, he does not accept her saying "she is not my wife but some one else's." It is one of the most sensitive scenes in the entire presentation and Mandeep Kaur is excellent. Yet another good performance comes from the man who migrates to Canada to live with his children in the story, "Ram Gau".

In fact most of the cast play three-four different roles and play them well. But one wishes one knew who was who on the stage. As such it is difficult to single out characters for the brochure gives no details of the cast.

"Gaddi Charhan Di Kaahal Bari Si" is one of the best presentations that one has seen from Punjab. Both for its presentation and contents the play must reach a wider audience.

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