Kingdom of Cards (Tasher Desh)

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

24/11/2011 - 27/11/2011

Production Details

“Freedom that is caged inside your heart could escape in your dreams” – Rabindranath Tagore

Prayas – who now have a rich collection of plays to their credit – began with the idea of bringing the best of Indian culture and drama to a New Zealand audience in English.

Their latest play is Kingdom of Cards (Tasher Desh) and will be performed at TAPAC in Western Springs, 24-27 November. The year 2011 also marks the 150th anniversary of its playwright, the remarkable Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). He grew up under British rule and never ceased to attack any social stigma, prejudices and bigotry.

The play’s humour and criticism find a ready place in modern New Zealand life. The Kingdom of Cards – a colourful music and dance comedy tells the story of a Prince who wants to be free from the burden of a monotonously lavish life. So he sails off with a merchant friend to seek adventure and challenge in unknown lands.

‘Our peace and calm are like an ancient tree. Worms have burrowed into it and it’s dead: we want to cut it down’ In Alice in Wonderland style, he ends up in a childlike world where everything is a card character. The people live a stilted life and are guided by ‘rules’ and the hierarchy of cards. The play shows how the prince changes this world and brings romance, music and the beauty of movement into their lives.

Tagore has cleverly criticised caste, class and meaningless rules and regulation. “You’re female – you should preserve peace. We’re male, and we must preserve culture”.

In presenting Kingdom of Cards, Prayas has reached out to the Auckland theatre community and involves players and crew of many different ethnicities.

Kingdom of Cards
TAPAC in Western Springs 
24-27 November
7.30 pm. 

Gaurav: The Joyful Joker
Zetin: The Lady of Savvy Tricks
Kanchan Bandyopadhyay: The Prince of Mischief
Amit Ohdedar: The Ace of Directors
Dilbagh Singh: The Priestly Mr Ten in the Kingdom of Cards
Jenny Li: The Lithe Ms Ace
Anita Crisinel: The Subversive Miss Hearts
Rahul Gandhi: The Musical(ly Challenged) Mr Five of Diamonds 

A play to make you smile

Review by Aidan-B. Howard 25th Nov 2011

I was certainly looking forward to this. The Prayas Theatre Company has been around for six years now and is New Zealand’s leading Indian drama company; one which attempts to break out from, in its own words, “stereotypical compartmentalisation – mystic spirituality, exotic curries and Bollywood glamour.” And they certainly chose a play that challenges that stereotype, while not being totally without the flavour of the sub-continent.

Kingdom of Cards (Tasher Desh) was written in 1933 by the famous and prolific Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. It is loosely based on Alice in Wonderland and is turned into a political commentary on the stifling of freedom.

One by one the characters discover that the neatness of their regulated lives has stifled their being “people”; one by one they learn to break the rules. Analogies are drawn to animals kept in cages: “At least we get fed.” We are encouraged to look for “newness”, a running theme.

Since the play starts with the conversion of a prince and ends with that of a king, both of which may be rendered by the Hindi word raja, it is likely that Tagore was suggesting the liberality which the British ‘raj’ offered India over its own strict social rules: certainly, the concept of the ‘West’, of the foreigner from across the sea, dances around the outskirts of the storyline. 

The play represents much of the dichotomy of India. While it is a nation of pacifism, it is also the nation of the thuggee[1]; while full of wealth, it is the most poverty-stricken of all ‘westernised’ cultures; while it has had great leadership in the sciences, the majority of them are uneducated. Here too we find the dichotomy between social regimentation and private desire for licence; we find social upheaval instigated not from the masses, but from a prince; we find the joyous freedom to do as one desires measured with references to sadness.

Despite the troupe’s hope to break from stereotypes, this does have the obligatory spasms of dance and music (complete with that classical Indian instrument, the synthesiser). Even these are pleasant, because they are not orthodox.

Kingdom of Cards does have the potential (and I stress that word) to be a little boring, because after the first twenty minutes we have all got a clear indication of the message: after that, it is simply one convert to freedom after the next. But the play gets around this limitation of the storyline by remaining a lot of fun (and I stress that word also).

It is happy, silly, it does not take itself too seriously, it is colourful, and lets us have the good old titter at regular intervals. It is a play that will make you smile for 80 minutes.
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[1]  Thuggee (or tuggee, hagī) (from Hindi ṭhag ‘thief’, verb, thugna, to deceive, from Sanskrit sthaga ‘cunning’, ‘sly’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘dishonest’, ‘scoundrel’, from sthagati ‘he conceals’) is the term for a particular kind of murder and robbery of travellers in South Asia and particularly in India. [Thank you Wikipedia]    


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