‘The Djinns of Eidgah’ brilliantly evokes the psychosocial uncertainty in current Kashmir. It is set just before Eid, when Muslims in Kashmir visit an Eidgah, an open-air enclosure reserved for Eid prayers. The play’s Eidgah is thought to be visited by Djinns, shapeshifting spirits in Islamic literature that are neither good nor evil. This play characterizes the djinns as those who were killed fighting against Indian control. Eid celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son’s life in obedience to God’s command.
Imane Bou-Saboun is excellent as Bilal, a star footballer whose future in the game is threatened by the unrest. She weaves a huge range of emotions into her character. Bilal makes the heart soar. Sprightly and loving, she plays imaginary football with her co-footballer Khaled (Isambard Dexter) and games with her sister Ashrafi (Tanya Brown). In a flash, she can become tensely conflicted. The comfort in her presence is lost in a flash.
Dexter is disarming and witty as Khaled as he plays football with Bilal in an empty football pitch. Around him, other characters sit silent and still, representing the constant unseen presence of those badly affected by Kashmir’s conflict.
Especially powerful here is Rowan Gow as a soldier, who epitomises the vulnerable, stranded young military in Kashmir. He has sleepy, sad eyes, and a mysterious still quality that is reminiscent of Kashmir’s hills which were once considered mystical and like a ‘paradise on Earth’. His initially humorous conversations with another soldier (Linnea Lagerqvist), about their supplies running out are like those in Blackadder. They bring out the absurdity of humanity when brutality is all around them. At times, this comedy seems overplayed and needs to be made more subtle.
Suchitra Sebastian and Hannah Shury-Smith have excellent chemistry as Dr Baig and Dr Wani, head psychiatrist and student psychiatrist at a hospital outside Srinagar. At first Dr Baig is like a schoolteacher, stern but kind. She gives out sweets for good work. Dr Wani’s voice is rich and resonant, and her discourse on Kashmir’s situation is eloquent and impassioned: a part of her is stirred by the resistance movement. She is the catalyst for Dr Baig’s slow self-realization of her sadness about her son’s death and how it scarred her. Her hospital is a sanctuary from the fighting, and it is being threatened. Sebastian charts this change expertly. Dr Wani tells her that she is a poor storyteller, and that there’s more to the story than thinking the fighting and death in the resistance is bad-and that Dr Baig could dismiss any other story of Kashmir’s events with reason. This relationship is mesmerizingly acted.
Tanya Brown as Bilal’s sister Ashrafi has an intangible magnetism. She is so convincing that all the senses seem to be touched through her performance. She is a flawlessly natural performer. Her character’s desperation and fear flashes out like fire when Bilal turns to see what’s going on outside.
The costumes are what people in Kashmir might wear and the actors have adopted the accents and manners of speaking particular to that region.
This show is quietly and viscerally convincing. Its happenings are going on as I write this: Eid is August 11-15. The play was developed from real-life testimonies.
‘The Djinns of Eidgah’ runs till August 18 – buy tickets here.