August 14, 2014
In August 2006, 12-year-old Molly Campbell, a mixed-race schoolgirl “disappeared” from Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides. Her father, British-Pakistani Sajad Rana, who was divorced from her mother, Louise Campbell, had moved back to Pakistan with his older children and wanted Molly to join them. Louise was terrified she would lose her remaining child. When her daughter didn’t come back home, she feared Rana had abducted her and called the police. Louise’s mother publicly said Rana was plotting to marry off the child, adding further piquancy to the rising public outrage about Asian “barbarism”. And then came the startling/shocking finale. At a press conference in Lahore, Molly, dressed in a bright shalwar khameez, cheerfully told journalists that she had left Scotland of her own free will and wanted to live with her dad. She was no longer Molly Campbell, but “Misbah Rana”, a Pakistani Muslim. Long court battles ensued, politicians got involved, and in the end Louise gave up the fight. Most Britons found it hard to understand why the pre-teen gave up her Western freedoms and chose a severely proscribed life. She is now back in the UK and living with her mother.
Actress/writer/director Sudha Bhuchar and director by Philip Osment have created a profound drama out of this crisis, using verbatim interviews with the three protagonists. Their names have been changed: Rana is “Farhan”, Louise is “Suzy” and Molly is “Gaby”. Truths and emotions are revealed here that no journalism can ever reach. It is as powerful as Nicolas Kent’s testimony-based dramatizations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and Hutton Inquiry.
Bhuchar was “fascinated by and drawn to the family and what they had lived through. Their personal story seemed to mirror the relationships between communities that make up multiracial Britain and how that relationship has changed and shifted over time.” The company was founded to reflect this shape-shifting, kaleidoscopic Britain.
‘My Name Is…’ by Tamasha is on tour from 12 September to 11 October (tamasha.org.uk)
July 17, 2014
To appreciate the relevance of playwright Ayad Akhtar’s work, you need look no further than two eerie coincidences that shadowed his debut drama, “Disgraced.” The play, which portrays the downfall of a Muslim American lawyer, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2013. The day the award was announced, two Muslims deposited pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston marathon. A second grisly coincidence came a few weeks later. On the day “Disgraced” opened in London two Muslims murdered and tried to behead a British soldier on a busy street in what one said was revenge for the British army’s killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody linked these attacks to Akhtar’s play, but they were nonetheless chilling reminders of the violence that hovers at the edges of the territory he explores. “The work I’m doing is in direct dialogue with what’s happening in the Muslim world,” he said recently over dinner in New York.
‘A process of coming out’
By some measures, Akhtar is thoroughly American: born on Staten Island and raised in the Midwest. Both his parents are doctors who emigrated from Pakistan in the late 1960s. A Muslim identity pervaded his family to varying degrees — his father abstained from practice while his grandmother was so devout she lowered her eyes every time the prophet was mentioned. Young Ayad was drawn to his faith and went through a period of intense religious commitment. As he got older, he wanted to fit into American life but often felt invisible among the white kids in his suburban Brookfield, Wis., neighborhood. “I didn’t have a place in the culture in the same way that my white friends did,” he recalls.
Akhtar turns an introspective eye on Islam’s tough questions. Like the daughter Zarina in “The Who & the What,” he has long wondered about the true nature of the prophet Muhammad. In the play, Zarina has written a novel portraying the seventh-century founder of Islam as a real man; her aim, as she puts it, is to consider “who he really was” — to view him not just as a figure of worship but as a human. In considering the prophet, Zarina raises questions about the treatment of women under Islam. “I hate what the faith does to women,” she says. “For every story about [the prophet’s] generosity or his goodness, there’s another that’s used as an excuse to hide us, erase us.” Her father, Afzal, is outraged not only because of her blasphemy but because of the dangerous implications for a daughter he loves beyond measure. “In Pakistan, she would be killed for this,” he cries. Then, trembling at such a prospect, he adds: “If anything happened to her . . . .” But in the end, his ire gets the best of him and he wants to erase Zarina from his mind, telling her: “You make me regret the day you were born.” Akhtar has been obsessed with the prophet since he dreamed about him at age 8. He fully understands Afzal’s frenzy, but he also is in sympathy with Zarina. “I’m still trying to understand what the Prophet means not only to me but to our community,” he says.