Djinns of Eidgah is hard to say, and at times can feel hard to grasp. One of 12 writers invited by the British Council to create a play asking urgent questions about India, Abhishek Majumdar was always going to serve up something intense. So, if you haven’t got a knowledge base of the Pakistani / Indian divisions that pervade in war-torn Kashmir, best to have a read up before as you will get more out of it.
Despite the big political subject, this is essentially the harrowing story of two innocent and hopeful lives, trying to find their way to happiness amid torture and violence. Fourteen year old Ashrafi (an irresistibly watchable Aysha Kala) was sitting next to her father on a bus when he was shot dead. The trauma has solidified her as forever ten years old and she chats away happily to her puppet doll and regales her psychotherapist (and us) with her impressions of a bus conductor in a therapy game.
Her brother, 18 year old Bilal (played with admirable energy by Danny Ashok) has dreams of playing football in the Brazil World Cup, but Indian armies camping outside the football stadium, stealing equipment, and his teammates spitting on him for not joining protests, threaten to trample on this bright vision.
What works best is the portrayal of violence and the disconcerting sense you are in the thick of it. The sounds of mobs hurling stones, the sight of perversely tortured victims and the madness of violence, in which one crazed Indian officer whips out a flick knife and chops off his comrade’s penis, all brought Kashmir and its terrors right onto the Royal Court stage. However, a fantastical element confused an already complex plot and subject matter for us. These are the eponymous Djinns, which according to Muslim legend, take on animal or human form to exercise supernatural (and nefarious) influence over people. These characters pop up a couple of times but we’re not sure what dimension they added other than bring more of the culture and beliefs to the fore of Islam-inhabited Kashmir.
Djinns of Eidgah is proof, if ever there was needed, that theatre is connected with the real issues of the world, inviting us to peer inside the bullet ridden, bloody terrain of Kashmir from our peaceful country. Just don’t go in expecting the night to spoon feed you as this is a play that asks a lot back of its audience.
Djinns of Eidgah is at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court until 9 November. Tickets: £10 / £20. Londonist saw the play on a complimentary press pass.