Friday, September 26, 2008

Final Solutions

Last week I went to the Visual Arts Collective to see East Indian Follies' production of Final Solutions, about the aftermath of the Partition of India and Pakistan and the strife between Hindus and Muslims in India afterwards. I really wanted to like the play; I saw a production by East Indian Follies once before at a Community Theater Association of Idaho event that I really enjoyed. Sadly, I don't think I can recommend Final Solutions for my average reader here. It may be appreciated more by the Indian community in Boise, but for me it was a bit hard to get through.

Final Solutions has an interesting premise. It's after curfew in a city in India, there are riots in the streets, and a mob of Hindu men has chased two Muslims, Javed and Bobby, to the home of Ramnik, who takes the men into his house to protect them. Ramnik's mother Hardika, wife Aruna, and daughter Smita are all, to varying degrees, upset by his actions. Hardika lived through the Partition in 1947 and says that these people -- Muslims in general, not Javed and Bobby -- killed Ramnik's father. Aruna, unlike the liberal, agnostic Ramnik and Smita, is a devout Hindu and believes that Javed and Bobby are desecrating things like the family's water when they are allowed to touch it. And Smita knows Javed and Bobby, and knows that Javed has joined a group of Muslims who started the riot. The play explores prejudices, deep-seated grievances, and tenuous attempts to make peace.

Some of the performances were excellent, particularly Aruna, played by Chandrika Anand, and Smita, played by Kavita Jayaraman. And the play has its share of powerful moments, such as when Bobby, played by Amit Gupta, grabs one of the gods from the family's Hindu shrine, and when Ramnik (Mouli Subramanian) and Smita confront Aruna and tell her that her religious prejudices make her no different than fanatics like Javed.

But unfortunately, the play gets bogged down. There are multiple flashbacks to when Hardika was a young woman, and there's also four men who appear periodically as a sort of Greek chorus, alternatively wearing the masks of Hindus and Muslims and chanting slogans repetitively. These continually interrupt the flow of the play and don't always add the dramatic tension they should, particularly since the woman playing young Hardika spoke in such a shrill, overwrought voice that it made it difficult sometimes to follow what she was saying. And the script goes from revelation to revelation, from big symbolic speech to big symbolic speech, trying to say too much and to say it with grandiose rhetoric. I think the real problem with the big speeches was that they led to an issue with timing. The characters delivered their speeches chock-full of dramatic pauses. The play should have been tightened up considerably -- it just went on too long. By the end of the three-hour production, I was exhausted.

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