Beyond the Joke
Beyond the Joke

Dripping with wry humour, Prabhjot Singh’s "Seekh Kabab” is an invigorating take on violence against humanity.

"Seekh Kabab” presented by Atelier Theatre this past week at Akshara offers comic moments juxtaposed with the anger and anguish of people killed in 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Writer-creative director Kuljeet Singh treats the massacre with remarkable subtlety. The production leaves a strong impact on the audience who feel strongly against a system which allows satanic forces to perpetrate violence against humanity.

Directed by Prabhjot Singh, a young actor-turned-director, the play opens with a character in white dress, reading out names with complete address of people who are the target of violence. His voice is stern, body language is indicative of revenge. The people whom he is giving orders are offstage, suggesting that they are the custodians of law and order. The character in white dress becomes panicky as soon as somebody clicks him with a camera surreptitiously while he is provoking people to resort to violence. He rushes to the police station, severely reprimanding police officers on duty to arrest the person who had taken his photograph.

And then the production seeks to change the stern tone into a light-hearted one. A solo performer appears on the stage who narrates jokes directed against Sikhs. These jokes are not vulgar and have a strong element of wry humour and irony.

After watching images of different human situations, finally we witness a bizarre scene set in the police station. Here in a room SHO and his assistant are sitting. The SHO is tired and appears as if he has lost the will to live. As an escape, he talks about his kids and the cricket match. Outside the office in the waiting hall riff-raff are waiting to meet the SHO. There is a barber, a man shaving beard, moving from one corner to another. There is a sex worker, who is summoned to see the SHO to tell him about the whereabouts of one of her clients who happens to be a Sikh and has gone underground to escape from the police. There is a comic character in the dress of bridegroom who wants police to help him find out his bride who has disappeared just before the marriage ceremony could take place.

In the lockup, we watch musicians of a band who are brought here simply because the owner of the band happens to be a Singh though he is not a Sikh. In fact, the band was part of a marriage party. On the corner of the bench is sitting a Sikh, who wants Police help to find out his son who has suddenly disappeared. The Sikh is a proud retired military personnel who has rendered meritorious services to the army. In the course of interactions between the retired army soldier and the police officer it is revealed that the son is a devout Sikh, has close contacts with Sikhs in Amritsar and has fascination for photography. This opens before us a most disturbing world in which there is no place for justice and respect for humanity – a world of hatred and bloodshed. Interrupting the conversation between the retired military officer and the police, a telephone call is received. The retired soldier is subjected to torture and the room of the SHO is transformed into a torture chamber. Another call is received by the SHO and the worried father is asked to go home. Beaten, humiliated and insulted military personnel, asks the SHO, "Is my son a militant?” There is silence.

The director has imaginatively used the members of the musical band kept in the lockup to sing songs that highlight comments on polity in which the perpetrators are at the same time custodians of law and order assuming unbridled power to distort legal structure where rule of law becomes a nightmare. The songs lend the production the power of the Brechtian theatre to make philosophical comments on the state violence. The production ends with the song "Neele Aakash Alvida”, suggesting that when genocide is committed justice remains elusive. There is an image of a little Sikh boy who plays with a rubber tyre, commenting it is not only a thing to play but could be used for other purposes (during anti-Sikh riots tyres were used to destroy human lives). The production shows genocide using metaphors.

Kuljeet Singh as the retired soldier acts with remarkable restraint, using pauses to dramatic effect. He delivers his dialogue with inner conviction and sincerity. Niresh Kumar as the tired SHO vividly projects the dilemma of his character forced to surrender to the dictates of politicians in power motivated by revenge. Another performance of quality is offered by Gaurav Kandola as sub-inspector revealing his character's sadistic nature.
(Courtesy : The Hindu)


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