by Maleeha Sofi

SRINAGAR: Novelist and playwright Sohan Lal Koul has remained a popular choice for theatre because he has his hand on the pulse of society. In the last festival, at least three of his plays were staged in a single festival.

Koul’s Gindan Tamashe which was staged at Tagore Hall tackled the issues related to the issue of existence and identity. It asked very pertinent questions and provoked the audience to stay engaged.

It started in a set of the semi-lit enclosure with no doors and a single window. It was messy with three dustbins, some dirty clothes, tissue papers all over the floor and two beds on which two people were sleeping.

The beds exhibited a contrast. One had a white and blue bed sheet with faded colours. The pillow was stripped without any cover. The other bed was a shining, bright, and floral red colour bedsheet. The pillow was also covered with black velvet floral cover giving it an exquisite look. It suggests the two persons resting belonged to two different classes.

The man – who is later given the name Seen, wakes from the ‘inferior’ bed wakes up. He seems to be around 40-50 years old. His face shows confusion as if seeking answers to some of his frustrations. Finally, he breaks the silence and starts asking himself “Who am I?” and “Where am I?”

A group photograph of Kashmir theatre artists who staged Dr Sohan Lal Koul’s Gindan Tamash (toy) at Tagore Hall, Srinagar on March 4, 2023. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Soon, he sees the man on the other bed and assumes he would have answers to his questions. After several attempts, he wakes him up but he also has no answers to any of his queries. He – later given the name Sheen – was in his twenties. Both of them have perplexed thoughts. They ask each other questions about their past, existence, and the mistake that would have led them there, and the biggest mystery at that point was their identification.

The whole conversation between Seen and Sheen showed a serious debate over one’s existence in the world. Sheen claimed to be the master of Seen. He wanted to continue it the same way no matter if they remember anything or not. However, their debate nullified the difference in caste and status between them. Seen got offended initially when Sheen sat on his bed as he was poor apparently. With the progress in their discussion, they exchanged their seats subconsciously. It made one thing clear while they struggled to recall their identification, they forgot their class differences. From death to life, fiction to reality, punishment to freedom, they discussed all the possibilities of their identity. They yearned to get a second chance so that they live happily. This came after a series of suicidal thoughts exhibited by the duo in the frustration of knowing themselves and their identity.

Amid the arguments, they receive a letter from the window. They do not open it assuming that it might be from the angel of death. Again, a deep conversation about the letter takes place. Somehow, they decide to read it. The letter has been addressed to Gindan Tamashe (Toys). It was written by a child asking his toys to return home. The child had thrown them away earlier because of the pandemic. This led them to question themselves, once again, ‘are we just toys thrown in the garbage’?

Soon another character jumps into the sets. He is well-dressed but equally fearful. On asking why and how he is here, he responds by saying he is being chased by the angel of death and this – the set – is the safest place. He tells them the angel has spread posters everywhere about him and kept a reward on him. The two men who were already dominating the set started planning that they should inform the angel and claim the bounty.

They started executing the conspiracy for which they needed to open the window. As they opened it, a voice from the window tells them that opening the window was the condition for taking their life. Now that they have opened, their lives will be taken away. The voice ordered them to go back to their respective beds. Sheen requested Seen to exchange the beds as he wanted to give him comfort, which he did not get his whole life. They sleep on each other’s beds.

The next scene shows them as toys. A girl with her father comes to take them along with her. Her father gives her permission to take only one and she takes the one on the bed that appeared poor for the same reason. It conveyed that Sheen stayed as a toy and Seen was given a second chance. However, he wasn’t happy with the second chance now because he is all alone and cries till the end.

The play by the Young Dramatist Society was directed by Altaf Hussain and designed by Mushtaq Baqal. The overall supervision was done by Javid Gilani. Seen was played by Shahzad Shabir, and Sheen by Shahid Malik. The third-person man escaping from death was played by Imran Farooq, father and daughter were played by Tanveer Ahmed and Arbeen Jan respectively.

The costumes were provided by Shabir Ahmad Mir, lighting was designed by Balbir Singh, Music arrangement by Rasiq Khan, Production management by Javid Khan, stage management by Khursheed Ahmad Mir (Yamberzal Youth Club), Audio and video arrangement by Wasaaqat Mehraj. The coordinators were Shabir Ahmad Bhat and Latif Ahmad Shah.

Sohan Lal Koul, it may be recalled here is a popular playwright. A novelist and having a doctorate in Urdu, he has written several novels and plays. His novels include Waehshi Kaeth, Panien Gunah, Yele saer PaethGoav, Abysmal and Ded. He has also written a few plays. He has worked as a programme executive in Doordarshan. In a 13-day Annual Drama Festival at Tagore Hall in the year 2021, three of his plays were presented.


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