SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 29 FEBRUARY, 2020
Dosh: Exploring Authority, Obedience and Guilt in the Context of Sedition
A review of the play
Najbunissa, a young widow, was arrested because the FIR lodged against her by an ABVP activist in Karnataka alleged that she had taught her daughter the “offensive” dialogue her daughter had delivered in a play held at her school, Shaheen Urdu Primary School near Shahpur Gate on 21st January this year. The ABVP activist alleged that the school was “instilling hatred” about the country among its students by making the minors enact a play with “derogatory references” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The school was also “spreading lies” about the CAA, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. Along with her, Fareeda Begum, the headmistress of the primary school was also arrested while the others named in the FIR had absconded.
The police in Jehanabad carried out a raid at the ancestral house of anti-CAA activist Sharjeel Imam who has been slapped with a sedition case in the national capital for alleged inflammatory speeches he gave at Shaheen Bagh and the Jamia Milia Islamia.
Dosh, a lucidly socio-political dialogue exchanged between a middle-aged brother and his sister meeting after a very long time probes deeply into questions of authority, obedience and guilt by placing these features of human behaviour against a much larger canvas of which “sedition” as we understand it today, is a microcosm. The play has no direct or even oblique references to the real-life incidents quoted above but it addresses a larger ideology or the lack of it, simply by placing two characters, a brother (Harsh Khurana) and sister (Sarika Singh), within an ambience that embraces razor-sharp questions on authority, guilt and obedience.
The play opens on the last evening of the 20th century. The sister, much younger than her brother, steps into the home of her widower brother after a long split that happened because they had had a fight over something. The sister is surprised to discover that the flat is filled with packed cartons as the brother is about to move out. When she asks why he is leaving, he says, “this house has too many memories so there is no space for me,” wistfully.
The entire play is an unfolding of layers and layers of memories the two fall back on from their childhood where the older kin reveals his interpretation of his late father’s dictatorial behaviour and how he was made to suffer, shocking the sister who still dotes on the older man. The scene diverts to their memories of living in America around the 1960s where the two had gone to more as a way of escaping the dictatorial and authoritarian treatment by their father than for higher aspirations. This sheds light on the fact that not all who go to America necessarily go in fulfilment of the “Great American Dream.”
The way the brother pronounces the word “America” from time to time, throwing a fisted arm up in the air is thickly layered with sarcasm and satire because the America they experienced was far from the America they had dreamt of. Maybe, America is an illusion that crashed later, or, a fantasy land that never existed and yet felt so real.
The play shifts to the participation of the sister while in America in an experiment in testing the degree of tolerance to pain in a chosen, behind-the-scene individual as the guinea pig in the experiment. Later, this experiment turns out to be one where the person who participates in inflicting the pain in different degrees is actually the subject or the guinea pig. Her brother explains to her how the entire “experiment” was a diabolic manipulation of the participants who volunteered to take part and that the ‘subject” was just a professional actor!
If this sounds confusing, when placed within a larger framework, it pushes us in front of an imaginary mirror where we find that we have been tragically conditioned to feel guilty if we obey authority and we feel guilty if we defy that authority. The three key words in this play is hinged on are – obedience, guilt and authority.
Today, these are the three factors pressurising us from all sides, having come out of the narrow confines of a home peopled by a dictatorial father and an oppressed and terrified mother with two confused and disturbed children to reach out to the world we live in. The brother’s shifting from his home filled with too many memories will not liberate him from the guilt of reacting or not reacting to and defying authority. Extending the same logic to the sister, the brother persuades her that leaving her husband she accuses of treating her with “silence” will not liberate her from the suffocation through feelings of guilt, real or imagined.
The minimalistic set design with cube boxes placed in different parts of the performance space, three jars of biscuits and channa to indicate the immediacy of leaving created by Vinay Sharma who wrote and directed the play and also designed the costumes add the right texture to the bareness of their lonely lives while the music (Vinay Sharma) set in a very low key adds to the low key performance of the two actors, Harsh Khurana as the brother and Sarika Singh as the sister. The muted lighting fits into the dark ambience of the performance.
The actors invest their performances with an electric energy that percolates down to the audience on the one hand and invites the audience to participate in their pain on the other. The vacillation of their exchanges shifting from anger through repentance, to the sweet memories drawn from their past, the sadness of impending parting ae brought out eloquently. Pain is another feature of human emotions that forms a significant underpinning of Dosh. Pain here is not just a part of an experiment. It is also a metaphor for life, for memories, for relationships that bring pain, induct pain, raise pain, release pain but cannot and does not necessarily resolve pain. Whose Dosh is it anyway? Think about it.
The performance stands solidly on the two actors who are like two pillars holding the structure of the performance solidly. The twists and turns are brought in gently and subtly without any sudden thuds anywhere till it reaches a seamless closure. Take a bow Vinay Sharma, his group Rikh and the team.