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The Djinns of Eidgah

Abhishek Majumdar
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Danny Ashok (Bilal), Aysha Kala (Ashrafi) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Vincent Ebrahim (Dr Baig) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Aysha Kala (Ashrafi), Nikesh Patel (Djinn) Credit: Manuel Harlan

Kashmir does not have a global reputation for its theatre but, if this dark fable is anything to go by, perhaps it should.

The Djinns of Eidgah mixes myth and contemporary politics into a variant of magic realism that will be hard to forget, especially a beautifully conceived, deeply shocking scene immediately after the interval that brings home to viewers the terror of state sponsored genocide with truly brutal realism.

The opening scenes suggest something considerably lighter, as first a father tells bedtime stories to his two children and then we meet a football team that includes a star too poor to afford boots for his international trial.

The good news for Bilal, played by Danny Ashok is that his selfless best friend, Raj Bajaj as Khaled will share his own but only at a price.

Even sport cannot rise above politics in the northern outpost of Srinagar where the locals do not regard themselves as Indian.

The football club is also part of a protest movement for independence but as Abhishek Majumdar shows, nothing is simple when freedom fighters are known as mujahedin and seen by many in this Muslim community as terrorists in minimal disguise.

The political complexities are demonstrated with deft skill, as the efforts of innocent Bilal to stay out of trouble and protect his haunted, childish sister, Aysha Kala as 14-year-old Shefoo (more formally Ashrafi) are compared with the nationalist fervour of his team-mates.

Shedding a different light on the situation are the local psychiatrist, the excellent Vincent Ebrahim in the role of Dr Baig, who has his own painful agenda and a pair of Hindu soldiers, seemingly sent to the distant hills by the Indian government as a sacrifice to political expediency in their war against Kashmiri independence.

To complete the story, a series of Djinns, "Gods, demons and angels all rolled into one" come back to haunt the living, hitting their weak spots with unerring accuracy and setting probing moral dilemmas for not only the protagonists but also audience members to ponder.

Abhishek Majumdar delivers a timely lesson in Kashmiri politics that has much wider resonance, demonstrating the universality of the issues that he explores so effectively as the mujahedin challenge Indian hegemony as surely as their colleagues in Afghanistan have fought Russian and American soldiers for so long.

The Djinns of Eidgah is a superb, thoughtful work that gets a worthy production in traverse under the direction of Richard Twyman, who ensures that the tension doesn't let up at any point during the 2¼ hour running time.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher