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‘Indigo Giant’ – entertaining, thoughtful and relevant to us today…

‘Indigo Giant’ –  entertaining, thoughtful and relevant to us today…

Stop press: Congrats to Komola Collective for their and writer Ben Musgrave’s nomination in this year The Offies – (see bottom) today on World Theatre Day

Play shows how power and money began to disrupt rural life in Bengal as the Brits arrived…

BRITISH Colonialism is a little unexplored territory in theatre, we feel.

Inspired by Dinabadhu Mitra’s play ‘Nil Darpan’ (1859) – this sought to show how the farming community in Bengal was changed by colonial settlers.

This original and new drama tackles contemporary themes too with a more modern element later in the play.

The wider story of how the British came to take over India is hardly told at all – anywhere much – and while there are commendable efforts to redress this in education in the UK, there are other ways too of informing and educating people – entertainingly too!

Indigo Giant’ definitely falls into this category – set in 1859, it focuses on a small farming community in Bengal.

We see Sadhu Charan (Diljohn Singh) is an indigo farmer. It is a plant that has a natural colour and from that it could be used as a dye and was much prized by the British when they arrived in India.

In this play, the Brits in India are represented by the planter Rose (Thomas King).

Charan has just got married to Kshetromani (Amy Tara). She is spirited and ambitious.

There are two other farmer characters who also appear at the very beginning – Gopi (Chirague Amarchande) and Rashida (Subika Anwar-Khan) and there is a sort of chorus figure referred to in the text as The Presence (Adi Roy Bhattacharaya).

All is relatively well until the planter Rose arrives and begins to bargain with Charan for the sale of his indigo crop.

Slowly his influence becomes more malign and troubling – on the surface, it looks like he is just doing business.

He starts to take an unhealthy interest in Khestromani and is now quite happy to throw his weight around, having established himself in the region.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the tension between the Indians and the Britisher (as they continue to be called in India) escalates.

Writer Ben Musgrave sets the context well and allows the characters to become fully formed before we get the conflict and troubles.

Interspersed with music both in English and Bangla by Leesa Gazi, this is a fine small scale production that has a lot to say about the nature of colonial power and how it was wielded and in some ways continues to be – Musgrave transposes the trials and tribulations of Sadhu and Kshetromani to the modern day and a different set of characters who also feel the economic pressures of international trade in a different way.

Bangladesh has become a global textile hub in recent times and many big western brands have contracts with textile producers in the region.

We have seen that they want to act ethically, while maintaining a somewhat unequal and unhealthy dynamic in their power relations – they have the capital, while those employed on the land and factory work, need money to survive and progress.

In this phase of the play, British colonial planter Rose becomes ‘Jeremy’ in the 21st century – who is sent to Bangladesh to oversee production, quality control and working conditions.

He is more benign than Rose, but Musgrave draws attention to the unequal power dynamics with the character, ‘Rupa’ who knows her stuff but has limited room for manoeuvre in negotiating better terms and conditions.

There is an element of the supernatural and mystical in the idea of the giants and ghosts who inhabit the region and have their own agenda which is mostly indecipherable to mere mortals.

Produced by the Komola Collective, a women-led creative outfit committed to telling untold stories, ‘Indigo Giant’, is a play that asks questions but doesn’t offer easy answers. Well-acted and absorbing, it throws a light on both Colonialism and present day economic and power relations.

Entertaining and thought-provoking, it deserves to be seen widely.

‘Indigo Giant’ has been touring the UK and saw it at The Soho Poly theatre lasy week (March 20)

Lead pic: Sadhu (Diljohn Singh) and Kshetromani (Amy Tara)


Indigo Giant’ – April 4-6 7.30pm at Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Rd, London NW1 1TT

The Offies nomination celebrate theatre outside the traditional West End in London.

Komolo Collective –

Soho Poly –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture