Borders have always fascinated debutant director Himanshu Sitlani. Be it international borders or borders that demarcate areas within a local suburb, he’s been keen to study the aspects of how areas are delineated and people who decide boundaries.
“While in Canada last year, I came across a story of a park bench in the middle of a meadow on the US-Canada border, that is separated right down the middle by the border of the respective countries. People sit there but don’t cross the ‘border’. While browsing about borders, I stumbled upon the text of the original play. After reading it, I was convinced that this is the play I would like to stage,” shares Sitlani.
Titled An Incident At The Border, the play delves on a couple trapped between two nations on the verge of war as a new border is drawn. The story goes on to show how the couple attempts to get back together and are held back by a border guard. UK-based playwright Kieran Lynn originally staged it in2012.
Sitlani maintains that this version is true to the original. “We haven’t changed anything. Also, since the play makes no actual reference to any time or space, we didn’t feel the need to change anything. The situation in the play makes it universal and it can be set just about anywhere,” he adds.
For the Indian version, Sitlani drew inspiration from personal experience: “I was in Kuwait when the first Gulf War broke out, so overnight, home became a place we couldn’t stay anymore; we had to flee to India. I also remember my grandmother’s stories of pre-Partition India and how they had to leave their home and settle all over again. I read up on the details of when the former USSR broke up and new countries like Armenia and Ukraine popped up. What would it have been for the people there to suddenly wake up and say, ‘Hey, we’re a new country now’?”
Sitlani has been involved
in theatre for over a decade and has worked as an actor, producer, stage manager, sound operator with QTP and Akvarious, among other theatre groups. He was also a co-organiser of theatre festival Thespo. “It was while putting up a Thespo play that we formed Le Chayim Theatre Productions in 2006,” he recalls. He immigrated to Canada in 2010 and worked with Why Not Theatre and was the tour manager when their play, Spent, toured India in 2011.
While the topic may seem rife with context, Sitlani shrugs it off saying there is “no direct message per se”. However, he feels that humour works better than pathos in this play: “The situation in the play is absurd in nature. The humour brings out the seriousness of the topic.”