Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi
REVIEW Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi, by Satinder Chohan
The title of Satinder Chohan's new two-act play is 'the ancient sport of our forefathers' played primarily in the Indian subcontinent.
Competing teams take it in turns to be raiders and defenders of a ground. One by one they have to touch a member of the opposite team and run back to the touchline - in one single breath. Once touched the defending team have to try and pin the raider down. Of course, it's about sport - 'Take a deep breath and don't blink', we're reminded at various junctures of the play. But this ancestral sport becomes a metaphor, the backdrop for a story that explores national allegiance, identity, betrayal and the defence of a motherland.
It opens on the scaffolds in Stratford 2012 with Shera (Chani) and Eshwar (Khan) preparing the Olympic park. Shera is a wide-eyed boy of a wealthy family who can sort out documents for immigrants. He differentiates himself from the likes of Eshwar and Azadeh (Peiris), the newly arrived 'freshies' (a derogatory term to which Eshwar, quite rightly, takes offence). We find that Shera's great grandfather had won the gold in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. It's something Shera is very proud of. Eshwar and Azadeh are merely people he uses and abuses, blackmails and threatens and espouses Indian nationalist chant and jingoism at various intervals. Life is certainly hard for illegal immigrants trying to make ends meet whilst contending with those taking advantage of their insecurity. As Eshwar ponders, how better off are they in England?
The second act takes us to the Punjab of 1936 where Shera's great grandfather, Pavan (Chani), cheats his way to the Olympics and where he wins a gold medal and influence. He betrays his friend, Fauji (Khan), who reluctantly has to join the army not so much because he believes in the British in India but because of necessity. As he tries to explain to the Indian freedom fighter, Azadeh, you can't survive on ideals alone.
The story and characters are both interesting and, on the whole, hold the attention of the audience quite well.
I do, however, have some minor misgivings. I felt the comic elements didn't work very well. Perhaps it was the lack of connection with the audience on the night - their failure, to some extent - or perhaps it was to do with strength of the humour. It seemed a bit flat in places and even the bombastic acting of Chani couldn't bring out the laughter.
Nevertheless, Helena Bell's production is quite an evocative, compelling piece of theatre especially with Mark Dymock's play with dust and red lighting. Arun Ghosh's soundtrack is haunting and the actors generally give impressive performances. Shalini Peiris, in particular, gives a portrayal of a vulnerable paranoid girl in Act I and then as a powerful, confident freedom fighter asserting her presence in a male dominated sport and politics in Act II.
Next showing at the MAC, Tuesday 27th November 2012