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Canada-based Indian playwright Rahul Varma- Art mimics life in Bhopal drama
In Prithvi production, Canada-based playwright grapples with a tragedy

Mumbai, November 10, 2004
Mumbai News Lne

It was the documentary image of baby Zarina, just 18 days old but already dying, that inspired Canada-based Indian playwright Rahul Varma.

The resultant script, delving into the story of the Bhopal gas tragedy, saw thespian Habib Tanvir ‘‘change his shailee (form)’’. Twenty years after the tragedy, Zahreeli Hawa premieres at the Prithvi Theatre Festival. The play is vintage Tanvir.

An NRI confident of resolving India’s crises through industrialisation. A Canadian doctor fighting for the community’s health.

Union Carbide Chief Executive Officer Warren Anderson. And an unborn child whose fate hangs in the balance. ‘‘I didn’t want to concentrate on chemicals and corruption, but on the indignity of dismissing human beings and their right to birth healthy babies,’’ says Varma.

After repeated visits to Bhopal and meetings with victims, Varma’s play opened in Canada just after September 11, 2001.

‘‘There was initial pressure against an anti-US play, when the country was in mourning. But India’s been in mourning for 20 years. The WMDs weren’t in Iraq but in Bhopal,’’ he says.

‘‘A proven killer is roaming free in America,’’ he adds, speaking of Anderson—the only character in the play to come straight from real life. ‘‘I’ve said such nasty things about him, I was hoping for a lawsuit.’’

Veteran Montreal actor David Francis plays the CEO, and he, too, was prepared for brickbats. ‘‘I was told of an English actor who got bashed up after playing a Raj officer. And Bhopal was full of grafitti that read: ‘Hang Anderson’ and ‘If you want Osama, give us Anderson’,’’ laughs the Indo-phile.

American co-star Terry Allen was volunteering at a herbal medicine garden for the victims when she met Varma. ‘‘I was a farmer who’d never been on stage. But he convinced me that theatre would reach where slogans wouldn’t,’’ she says.

‘‘When I sent Habib the final script, he gave it his own stamp,’’ says Varma.

Unlike Tanvir’s trademark musicals, Zahreeli has just one song. But his Chhattisgarhi actors and multi-lingual exchanges are very much a part of the piece.

‘‘It was a complex rehearsal process, with actors who didn’t understand each other’s languages,’’ smiles Allen, who is looking forward to stagings in New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.


Rahul Varma