Mumbai, November 10, 2004
Mumbai News Lne
It was the documentary image of baby Zarina, just 18 days old
but already dying, that inspired Canada-based Indian playwright
The resultant script, delving into the story of the Bhopal
gas tragedy, saw thespian Habib Tanvir change his
shailee (form). Twenty years after the tragedy,
Zahreeli Hawa premieres at the Prithvi Theatre Festival. The
play is vintage Tanvir.
An NRI confident of resolving Indias crises through
industrialisation. A Canadian doctor fighting for the communitys
Union Carbide Chief Executive Officer Warren Anderson. And
an unborn child whose fate hangs in the balance. I
didnt want to concentrate on chemicals and corruption,
but on the indignity of dismissing human beings and their right
to birth healthy babies, says Varma.
After repeated visits to Bhopal and meetings with victims,
Varmas play opened in Canada just after September 11,
There was initial pressure against an anti-US play,
when the country was in mourning. But Indias been in mourning
for 20 years. The WMDs werent in Iraq but in Bhopal,
A proven killer is roaming free in America,
he adds, speaking of Andersonthe only character in the
play to come straight from real life. Ive
said such nasty things about him, I was hoping for a lawsuit.
Veteran Montreal actor David Francis plays the CEO, and he,
too, was prepared for brickbats. I was told of an
English actor who got bashed up after playing a Raj officer.
And Bhopal was full of grafitti that read: Hang Anderson
and If you want Osama, give us Anderson,
laughs the Indo-phile.
American co-star Terry Allen was volunteering at a herbal medicine
garden for the victims when she met Varma. I was
a farmer whod never been on stage. But he convinced me
that theatre would reach where slogans wouldnt,
When I sent Habib the final script, he gave it
his own stamp, says Varma.
Unlike Tanvirs trademark musicals, Zahreeli has just
one song. But his Chhattisgarhi actors and multi-lingual exchanges
are very much a part of the piece.
It was a complex rehearsal process, with actors
who didnt understand each others languages,
smiles Allen, who is looking forward to stagings in New Delhi,
Kolkata, Bangalore, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.