Their accents point to different countries but the two theatre groups talk in a common language of resistance. The Freedom Theatre (TFT) from West Bank, Palestine, and Delhi’s Jan Natya Manch (Janam) bring their understanding of strife, struggle and the power of the people to their first collaborative play, titled Hamesha Sameeda (Forever Steadfast), which opened in Lucknow last week and will tour India till January 25.
“We try to tell, briefly, a history of Palestine, broadly chronologically and without conventional characters. We use puppetry and properties, such as a tank, but, most importantly, we take off from symbols, such as olives and olive trees, which are central to the lives of Palestine’s people,” says Sudhanva Deshpande of Janam who has directed the 30-minute-long play with Faisal Abu Alhayjaa of TFT.
The key, he adds, is one of the important symbols of the play. Iconised in graffiti, stories and songs, the key — in real life — can be found in countless trunks and cupboards of old families of Palestine. “When the Naqba, or the first dispossession of the Palestinian people, took place in 1948, families locked their homes, asked neighbours to look after their belongings, and left with only the key. It represents the right to return. Though their possessions are gone, their lands seized, their homes demolished and their villages razed, these people hold on to their keys,” says Deshpande.
Alhayjaa’s first visit to India was for the International Theatre Festival of Kerala in January 2015 and it appeared apt that TFT and Janam would meet. Both groups have a shared history of violence — TFT’s founder member Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by masked gunman outside a theatre in 2011 while Janam’s Safdar Hashmi was assaulted and killed during a street performance of Halla Bol in Delhi on January 1, 1989. Each group has six actors in the play who have undergone workshops in Delhi and had conversations about the conflicts that rage in India and Palestine.
These dialogues have generated scenes in the play. “The play is in Hindi and Arabic. The media gives only half the picture so we want to spread awareness about the real Palestinian situation,” says Alhayjaa. In one sequence, a Palestinian girl thinks about her life before the Naqba and her anxiety is mirrored in the memories of an Indian girl playing the same character — thus placing the local audience physically in a Palestinian space. In a comical opening scene, however, a Palestinian theatre director locks horns with an Indian stage manager and ram into each other with words that are lost in translation.
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