october 2018 | Volume 172
Part of this year’s Diwali in BC, A Vancouver Guldasta is an issue-packed 65-minute play centering on two weeks in June 1984 during which the Indian army besieged, then invaded Sikhism’s holiest site, the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the Punjab, killing hundreds.
The play dramatizes the tensions that event creates within a Vancouver Sikh family, the Dhaliwals: restauranteur patriarch Chattar (Parm Soor), wife Niranjan (Gunjan Kundhal) and teenage Canada-born daughter Rani (Arshdeep Purba).
While desperately concerned for the safety of his family in Amritsar, Chattar insists that his family here keep a low profile so as not to endanger their status in Canada. Rani, in contrast, wants passionately to be part of the protests raging in Vancouver’s Sikh community.
We learn about those protests and the battle at the Golden Temple from CBC and Global news clips of the era. (As the family watches the TV news, we see it on a large screen above the stage.) The educational element is really the heart of the play, and playwright/director Paneet Singh isn’t shy about presenting the event and its aftershocks in their complexity.
We see and hear about the atrocities committed by Indira Gandhi’s forces against the Golden Temple occupiers. But we also see clips about the supposed Sikh terrorism. And we see the rage of the Vancouver protesters calling for the death of Indira Gandhi.
At the same time, multiple dramas are taking place within the Dhaliwal household. Andy (Lou Ticzon), the teenage son of a Vietnamese refugee family living in the basement, has become close friends with Rani but resents her trying to protect him from being bullied at school.
And they have a major falling out over the issue of violence. Rani wants to scream, march, support an independent Khalistan. But Andy has experienced too much violence in Vietnam. Ironically, Andy and Chattar both oppose Rani’s actions, yet Chattar mistakenly blames Andy for encouraging her.
And there’s more: generation gap conflict between Rani and her parents; the parents worrying that Rani is growing up “too white”; mother explaining to daughter the complicated gender politics within Indian families.
Each of these elements is fascinating in itself but there are far too many to explore in any kind of depth in so short a play.
All of this takes place in a modest South Vancouver living room, modelled on the living room in which the play was first performed. The play is grounded in detailed realism, and three of the actors perform naturalistically. Purba’s Rani is particularly effective and believable. Ticzon plays Andy so quietly he seems to be suffering from PTSD. Soor’s Chattar, though, sometimes feel too big and mannered for the space and style.
Some of that is on the playwright/director, as is the major problem with this piece for me, its awkward structure. We jump from day to day and TV clip to live scene without much flow, a new issue introduced and then just left.
Underlining the informational agenda, the audience is told before the play begins that the cast and director will come on stage after the play to talk with us, and this is actually part of the show, not just an add-on. On opening night the discussion was fascinating and informative. Definitely a worthwhile experience.
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