Bangalore Mirror | Cooking up a storm

The New Year brings a festive offering from Jagriti. While the first play of the season was Lysistrata, a farcical Greek play  done in Bangalore by local actors the second is an Internationally acclaimed play that is funny in parts but talks about a larger socio-economic malaise to which India is no stranger-Immigration and more specifically illegal immigration. Written by German Playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, who has emerged as one of the most important playwrights in the world in the last decade and translated by David Tushingham from the UK, The Golden Dragon is a searing tale of the immigrants saga in today’s globalized world  where ‘Oriental’ to most people is just the cuisine. For the regular diner that patronises or orders take away from  these ubiquitous restaurants, nothing exists beyond the ‘numbered dishes’ and the plight of the illegal kitchen hands  that work behind the scenes to whip up the fancy menu is what comes alive in The Golden Dragon.

Unfolding Crisis.

In the kitchen of  The Golden Dragon, a restaurant that caters to an adjacent apartment building, there is a crisis unfolding. Even as  patrons have ordered their favourite dishes, a young Chinese kitchen hand is suffering from excruciating toothache. He can’t go to the dentist because he is an illegal immigrant and the law says that he doesn’t have the right to even exist in the first world, leave alone the right to have a toothache. The other workers in the kitchen, most of whom are in similar circumstances, sympathise with him, but are helpless to do anything. They finally come up with a solution- pull the offending incisor out with a wrench, resulting in the boy’s death. Which leads to the bigger problem, disposal of the dead person’s body;  for a person who doesn’t have the right to live certainly can’t have the right to die. Through humour  and lighter moments the plays slowly shakes our very being. Our happy funny ride with the play has intervals that jolt us out of our seats. This is the story of people  who are just a speck in the eye for both law enforcers as well as bonafide citizens who consider immigrants(illegal or otherwise) a disease. The Golden Dragon sets its premise in a popular eatery, for Chinese eateries are popular the world over, and then goes behind the scenes to see how the workers live. And die.

Interconnected Web

More than talk about the plight of illegal immigrants, the play takes us on a journey of connections. The illegal immigrant’s body floats back thousands of miles on the sea back to  China, a  tooth lands up in a bowl of soup and the kitchen of The Golden Dragon is rocked to its core. Every time you think the play is moving along lyrically, there is an act of violence that comes along to shatter the beauty with gore.  Disquieting and strangely uncomfortable, this very dark comedy will shake you out of your stupor. Written and directed  to allow complete  fluidity, five characters play a multitude of roles,  men play women, women play men, the young play the old and the old play insects. In today’s globalised world, a giant cricket is manipulated and exploited by an ant and that insect is played by one of the actors. The illegal immigrant who left China to look for his sister floats back to his homeland witho ut bringing back his sister as promised. The play goes about connecting several events and episodes that make our lives.

That there were no oriental faces in the play was a major cause for concern when the play first opened, but Schimmelpfennig’s effort to keep it universal is commendable because the play could be located anywhere. Illegal Indian, Mexican, Cuban and Chinese workers are all part of the same vicious circle.  By talking about a specific problem without giving the actors specific looks Schimmelpfennig and the director of this production Ramin  Gray, who is also the artistic director of the Actors Touring Company(ATC) have freed the actor and the freedom shows in some riveting performances.

Toast of the Season

The Golden Dragon was the toast of the season in the United Kingdom in 2011. It won the coveted Olivier award in August last year and has since been performed extensively across the UK. Last season in the UK(which is probably where Arundhati Raja, the Artistic Director of Jagriti, saw it on her visit to the Edinburgh Fringe) it was recommended as the most successful play by critics and audiences alike. It was compared to the revolutionary film Drive, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. The play travels to Mumbai at NCPA before it comes to Jagriti in Bangalore. Highly recommended to give you an alternative theatre experience, like the sudden taste of chilli at the end of a soothing bowl of oriental soup. Only suitable for ages 15 and above.