Indian Decade

Night at the Theatre

Despite some earlier setbacks, inspiration was found at Delhi theatre festival.

Yesterday I mentioned some bureaucratic frustrations in attending the South Asian Women’s Theatre Festival in India the other day. Well, in the end, it was an evening dedicated to the women of Afghanistan where I felt the overall message was loud and clear—repentance and rejection of what happened in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, including things like demolition of huge statues of Buddha in 2001. Because after all, such an act was not only the destruction of art but also a decimation of history from which the Hazara people draw their origin and ancestry.

The 24-year-old director of the play Salsal and Shahmaama, Monireh Hashemi, corroborated the notion, telling me that the Taliban ‘wiped out’ her peoples’ history. Her play intermixes the mythology, or history, of Bamyan Buddha with contemporary realities of terrorist infested Afghanistan. ‘Terror and a sense of insecurity is part of our life in Afghanistan but we want to show a different image of Afghanistan to the world…that there is art and culture and people love peace and want peace,’ Hashemi also expressed.

Meanwhile, the 16-member theatre group behind the performance, the Simorgh Film Association of Culture and Art from Herat, has 9 women and is made up mostly of those aged between 14 to 24. The interesting thing is that it’s actually run by Hazara community, one of the especially marginalized sections of Afghan society that was poignantly portrayed in Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner.

‘We are aware of our social status but things are changing that the world outside can’t see but we feel, and doing theatre is not a crime or anti-religion,’ pointed out the brave director of the group, who worked for a few movies before forming her own theatre company in 2007 with her husband.

It seems that India offers this young theatre group a wonderful opportunity to move freely, go shopping and be themselves without being conscious of their gender, identity and religion. And this, according Monireh, has made the young female performers reluctant to return to Afghanistan, some even expressing an interest in joining Bollywood.

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Monireh was also careful to remind me that, ‘it is women who have to suffer most from the violence in Afghanistan—it is we who lose our husbands, our brothers, our love and our happiness…and women of Afghanistan will have to come forward to assert and do something to end this never ending atmosphere of terror in our wonderful country.’