The poster gives the first taste of Seekh Kabab. On a red and gold background — representing blood and fire — is a fist with the raised middle finger. The play’s name is derived from a street joke — what do you call a burning Sikh? — which did the rounds after the massacre of 1984. Seekh Kabab was presented in the Capital recently by Atelier Theatre, to coincide with the 31st anniversary of the massacre.
Khalsa College graduate Prabhjot Singh, 22, directs his first professional play with a sense of the absurd. He gets well-known stand-up comic Maheep Singh to open the action by telling sardar jokes. City-based Mizzle Band, which plays in restaurants and concerts, is cast as the Singh Band that has been arrested for its name. From behind bars, they provide foot-tapping musical commentary. “My approach was to not emotionally manipulate the audience. I wanted them to sit easy and take in the play,” says Prabhjot.
The stage is split into three sections of a police station. The human stories play out piecemeal to create a complex dark comedy. A dulha asks what to do with the condom he had bought for his wedding night; an unsuspecting former soldier tells the police about his religious son; a child describes ways of playing with tyres; a sex worker remembers a macho customer; a singer wonders why cops keep asking her if the Singh in their band name is “woh wala Singh”.
The actors, from groups and campuses of Delhi, including the National School of Drama, rise to their roles as does singer-actor Tanya Ahuja, who plays the vocalist of Singh Band. Last year, Atelier’s Kuljeet Singh had presented an intense play from the US on the massacre, titled Kultar’s Mime.
Seekh Kabab is different in the way it alternates dark moments with light touches. “People ask me if I would have made this play if I weren’t a Sikh. I would have. For me, it is a story of a minority,” says Prabhjot.