European premiere of play sheds light on plight of marginalised people

By Sairah Masud

AN INDIAN playwright has hoped for the European premiere of her latest play to shed light on the experiences of marginalised people across the world.

Written and directed by Dr Gowri Ramnarayan, Night’s End tells the story of a man’s love for the forest and his commitment to save the endangered tiger against the backdrop of classical dance and the forests of Rajasthan in northwest India.

Depicted as ‘a tale of love, abandonment and loss’, the play reveals how the actions of humans impact the fragile ecosystem of the forest in which the character, Krishnan, lives.

The plot moves through Krishnan’s quest to save his adopted tiger cub with the help of the nomadic Mogiya tribe while a romance unfolds between him and Chandni, a girl from the tribal community.

“This is a universal story about marginalised people across the world and I’m excited that we’re bringing it to the mainstream British public for the first time – I hope they like it,” Dr Ramnarayan, a former journalist of 25 years, told Eastern Eye.

Dr Gowri Ramnarayan

“(The play) wasn’t written for a particular audience in mind. If you’re interested in the environment and life, I think you might find it interesting.”

Ramnarayan was travelling through the Rajasthan desert when she was inspired to write the play.

“We stopped to have a cup of tea at the roadside and I saw a very oddly dressed man standing there. I was told that he is tribal and not to have anything to do with him; they are bad people. So naturally, when someone says ‘don’t talk to someone’, you want to talk them.”

Listening to the nomad’s story, Ramnarayan discovered that he was part of a displaced community in the forest – having been wiped out, they now had nowhere to go.

“The government had given them a settlement and their life has changed so much. Many of them didn’t know their language and they had lost their entire culture.

“There is also a huge tiger sanctuary in that area and it’s a constant problem for the forest rangers to protect tigers because of the poaching mafia.”

The production, which took a year to put together, came with challenges, including creating a forest and tiger on stage and only two actors to play an entire community of people.

“We used purely jump ropes and lighting to create the forest. We decided to keep it simple and minimalistic. I really enjoyed that whole process of assembling it all together.”

Ramnarayan, who is originally from south India, said creating a credible story of the two main characters was also a challenge she enjoyed taking on, coming from completely different walks of life to her, despite being from the same country.

“They don’t belong to my world in India. They come from a completely different way of life; the languages, culture, lifestyle, social status, community – everything is different. It was akin to a Brit writing about a German or an Ethiopian.”

Ramnarayan’s daughter, Akhila, comprises one half of the acting duo in the production. Like her mother, Akhila is also a writer and was teaching literature in the US before moving back to India to continue acting.

Akhila Ramnarayan playing the role of Chandni Mogiya

In addition to playing several villagers of the tribe, Akhila also plays Chandni, the woman who falls in love with Krishnan. She spoke of how she has grown to love the character after realising similarities within herself.

“She’s a free-spirited woman who has many of the same concerns others do. She’s exotic and boisterous and comes from a remote rural area but really she is no different from any of us. I want to bring that perspective to the audience.”

Having toured across all the major cities in India, Akhila hopes that by bringing the show to the UK, it will be a way of creating unity in a climate of discord.

“At a time when there’s great division between communities and cultures, I’m so excited to come to London and show people that we have so much more in common than we think and what we are able to achieve when we all come together.”

Ramnarayan described how theatre is a medium whereby telling stories can create a unique impact by inciting emotions in the audience.

“When you watch theatre, it’s a live, three-dimensional experience. You’re watching the lives of other people roll by before your eyes and you become one with that; you identify with somebody else. When I watch a movie or see a painting I don’t feel that way.”

On her role as a director, Ramnarayan said: “I do it because there is an inner surge from within me – I learn so much and I love working as a team. As a journalist, I’m alone and I enjoy the luxury of privacy when writing, but when I’m doing a play, I depend so much on everyone, from the person who sweeps the stage to the lighting person to the sound recordist to the actor.

“It can be frustrating, sometimes, because it means there’s a lot of give and take. But that sense of bonding you develop from working with people and achieving something together is what I enjoy the most.”

Night’s End is at Soho Theatre until December 2