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Review by Sarah Burgess.
No Dogs, No Indians takes its cue from a sign above a whites-only club in Chittagong: one which Rani, a young woman from Bengal, attacks in 1932, sacrificing her own life for the revolutionary cause. Traversing between 1930s Chittagong, post-independence Calcutta in the 1970s and contemporary India, the performance – written as part of the GemArts Masala Festival – uses this key trope of exclusion and classification to explore themes of identity and racial discourse which penetrate South Asian society. The question of whether India was ever really ‘freed’ from English occupation is centralised. A poignant quote: ‘India is still a colony’, summarises this reverberating tension within Indian politics.
Played by the talented cast of Komal Amin, Archana Ramaswamy, Omar Khan and Ashraf Ejjbair, the performance explores this through three story-lines – all set within a distinct period of modern Indian history. Segregation, as is exposed, may not be solely physical and explicit as we see in the 1930s, but can be indirect and sinister, such as through veneration of the English language, society and customs. This becomes evident when Shyamal Chatterjee (played by Omar Khan), boasts of English Literature as superlative when practicing for his role in a Shakespeare play in the 1970s. His modern-day persona, Ananda Chatterjee, returns from London to India for his father’s funeral in 2017: in doing so, he experiences feelings of identity-crisis and a longing for his life in Britain, with his friends mocking him for his ‘fraudulent’ Anglicisation. Clearly, the concept of ‘the British’ and associated notions of elitism still loom large in contemporary India. The performance itself, featuring only four cast members, all either Indian-born or of Indian heritage, attempts to subvert traditional colonial narratives by rejecting the white perspective and challenging its position of dominance. As Rani concedes when discussing the plot with her co-dissidents; anyone who is British is deemed an enemy – civilians and officials alike. In this way, the performance and script illuminate the counter-effects racism and imperialism have on colonial nations; a process by which hate can only breed more hate.
Although this play had much conceptual potential, and its message was provocative and successful in contesting the often-romanticised view of British India, its execution was disappointing. Transition across timelines and individual narratives was achieved through freeze-frames and clichéd styles of narration, as a result of which the plot became convoluted. Admittedly, there were times when I was unsure of who was who, or exactly what point in time we had arrived at. Sub-themes, especially those of feminism and master-servant relations, were explored sporadically, but they felt rushed and tokenised; as though they were introduced merely to bolster the performance’s cultural worth. That the performance attempted to say as much as it did is admirable, but perhaps came across as superfluous in implementation, with the characters and links at times appearing forced and unrealistic – almost caricature-esque. Thus, while at the level of the imaginary this performance held great ideological potential, unfortunately it was rather dull and uncomfortable to watch as a member of the audience.