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Review: The Djinns of Eidgah

A compelling exploration of the struggle for freedom

The Djinns of Eidgah, a 2013 play by Abhishek Majumdar, opens to a man telling his two young children a story – a legend that describes war as an illusion to be broken. Years later, the stories of those two children become inextricably intertwined with the story of Kashmir’s modern day struggle. Majumdar masterfully weaves together the narratives of two young football players who are torn between their dreams and their homeland, two doctors who disagree about how to guide Kashmir’s youth, and two soldiers who clash over their role as an occupying force.

Bilal (Anand Joshi), a football prodigy, has to choose between his teammate Khaled’s (Noor A. Noor) calls for him to join the resistance and keeping his head down to pursue his dream and take care of his sister Ashrafi (Eliz Avni), who is being treated by Dr. Baig (Suchitra Seb) for the trauma she suffered seeing her father gunned down on a bus. As the characters struggle with their duties towards themselves, others, and their homeland, weighted against what freedom means to them, the two Indian soldiers sit to the side, framing the entire play in a clear reminder that their choices are impossibly limited.

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Photo credit: Anna Gawedzka

The Djinns of Eidgah is an enlightening, beautifully told play, which makes it all the more important – and difficult – for the production to do it justice. Thankfully the cast and crew are more than up to the task. Sam MacDonald deserves congratulation for the soundtrack: the opening cello piece sets a melancholy and haunting tone, while his “No Feet” score successfully captures the tension and simultaneous inevitability of Bilal’s climactic decision. The lighting is also used to great effect, particularly in the scenes – heavy with unresolved pain and bitterness – where Dr. Baig interacts with the djinn (Imane Bou-Saboun), who has taken the form of his dead son. Claire Chung also turns in a remarkably strong performance as Dr. Wani during her exchange with Dr. Baig, despite her short presence in the play. Joshi and Noor, meanwhile, do an excellent job swinging from Bilal and Khaled’s teasing banter and genuine affection to the charged arguments about Bilal’s reluctance to march for Kashmir’s freedom. Joshi’s performance in his final scene is especially heart-wrenching.

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Photo credit: Anna Gawedzka

Throughout, Avni perfectly balances Ashrafi’s mental instability with moments of deep clarity and insight, a personification of the land of Kashmir and the trauma it has suffered. Juxtaposed with Linnea Lagerqvist’s unhinged portrayal of a naïve and fanatical Indian soldier, the play asks what it means to be insane when fear is constant and death lies just beyond the next curfew. Directors Ananya Mishra and Safie Grace Kabir's choice to cast Lagerqvist paid off, allowing them to use her character’s reflection of the idea that “nothing is more dangerous than a master who used to be a servant” to make a statement about the lasting and pervasive effects of Western colonialism.

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Poster by Siddharth Soni

I know very little about Kashmir’s struggle and history or the Islamic narratives and traditions that are integral to this play. However, The Djinns of Eidgah’s deeply personal exploration of the struggle for freedom is one that rings true universally, wherever injustice and abuse of power arise. Everyone involved in this production outdid themselves in bringing this already stellar play to life – I cannot recommend it enough.

5/5 stars.

The Djinns of Eidgah is on at the Corpus Playroom until Saturday, November 10th. Tickets are £7-£10.