Witty and touching look at British Asian life
Dishoom, Warwick Arts Centre, Oct 16-20.
Pravesh Kumar, artistic director of the Rifco Theatre Company devised this piece, with Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, based on memories of his disabled cousin, Simon, with whom he shared the school holidays.
It's a witty and touching homage which also satirises some of the stereotypes of immigration, arranged marriage and religion. One pastime the two boys had, back in the 70s, was watching Hindi movies on an early VHS machine. Sholay was a very popular film of the time and songs and scenes from it feature heavily in Dishoom - which in turn takes its name from the Bollywood sound effect of a punch or bullet (think “kapow”). The show’s target British Asian audience was much in evidence at the Arts Centre on opening night and they were obviously familiar with the many Sholay references. These are intertwined with the lives of Simon, played by 17 year-old debutant Bilal Khan, and his friends.
It's the summer of 1978 and the National Front is marching on the streets. Neil Irish’s clever set reflects those estate streets, folding out from the interior of Simon’s family home, but he leaves room for motorbikes and trains for the fantasy film scenes. Rory Beaton’s lighting design accents these elements as well as producing disco effects from flashing coloured windows for the dances. A flashback to Simon’s birth foreground the Asian family’s prejudice to disability. Then, fast forward to Simon at 16 and we see his widower father bickering with his grandmother Bibi about his future. She is played with authenticity by Seema Bowri, best known for her role as PC Leela Kapoor in the Bill, and has she some of the funniest lines. At this time Simon's cousin Baljit comes to stay. Played confidently by Gurkiran Kaur, her acting experience also stands out against some of the younger performers, and she plays the family scenes with the right degree of feisty geekiness. Under the influence of both Baljit and Sholay, Simon begins to aspire to something beyond home. This is exemplified in the recreation of set pieces and songs from the film, much to the delight of the audience who recognised the references immediately. Simon and Baljit happily lip-synch to the hits and their cinematic alter egos help rout the NF at the door. Then Baljit, having got her O-level results, is set to return to India and there is a poignant farewell. Rifco Theatre Company has been going for 18 years and together with the charity Rifco Associates has a mission to attract British Asian audiences to regional theatre by reflecting their often untold stories and under-represented voices.
If this night is anything to go by, they are succeeding.
For tickets go to: www.warwickartscentre.co.uk