What leads a man to kill? Is it hatred? Anger? Love? Perhaps an absence of love? Or perhaps, an absence and abundance of everything and nothing, all at once and for too long?
In director Indhu Rubasingham's play The Father and The Assassin, actor Hiran Abeysekera (Life of Pi) leads a fantastic cast as he captivates an audience for two hours and 35 minutes in the skin of Nathuram Godse, the man who shot and killed Mahatma Gandhi. The play is, for its high-stakes and political backdrop, is a deep study into one man, and how he connects to the great pains and hopes of an India yearning for genuine independence and identity.
Abeysekera is formidable throughout, never leaving the stage for a moment, and scenes throughout his life as well as important political moments in the life of Gandhi flit around him. All too real, and yet like the unravelling woven cloth that is the backdrop to the play: these moments, whether through pain or joy, dissolve from one to the other, never entirely concrete, and yet so important to the shaping of Godse's sense of being. The impact and role of the production's lighting creeps up on the viewer throughout, illuminating or casting in shadow aspects of Godse's memories as he searches for the truth within both himself and his ideals.
Playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar's choice to use this form of narrative, tunnelling deep in Godse's mind, is fundmental to her exploration of Godse and those around him. It gives Abeysekera the chance to play with the audience like an impish poltergeist, looking down on us all in the modern day as he hopes to convince us of the validity of his motives. He plays jokes and tricks on the audience, some to great laughs, some to devastating effect. Godse's own communiqué with the audience and therefore, with himself, comes full circle in the most rewarding and impactful of final scenes.
Brevity also appears in flashes from the other characters, snapshots that connect the audience with the everyday impacts of the effects of the Partition and British occupation on the many different people living in then British India. The various cast - Paul Bazely (Cruella) as Gandhi, Nadeem Islam (Where I Belong) in a scene stealing turn as Mithun, but to name two of the brilliant actors involved - bring to life the tapestry of pain, hope, love and faith that drove so many to take to the streets and fight or protest for their beliefs.
With many conversations today about India / Bharat's identity, and with their recent success in being the first country to successfully land a spacecraft on the south pole of the Moon, The Father and the Assassin makes one wonder what figures like Godse would think of their nation, as well as the lives of those in the diaspora, today. It is a production that is arguably essential viewing for all that are interested in history, culture, politics, society, identity and humanity... the list goes on. Chandrasekhar, Rubasingham and the talented cast and crew have taken the story of one man, a man that killed one of the most famous men in history, and through him opened up a lid on the pains and loves that come with nationhood and faith, and what decades of craving for a future that is better than the past does to a person.
Historical accuracy - in case one is expecting a historical docu-play - is not the point of the production, and since the story is seen through the eyes of Godse's dizzying (and perhaps unreliable) narration, such discrepancies do not matter. The pain of colonialism's bitter legacies and the deep conflicts bourne of national identity, impact when they need to most.
After Abeysekera utters his last, painfully triumphant lines into the air, and the lights in the theater go out for the last time, it is guaranteed that The Father and the Assassin will leave no viewer unmoved by the power and depth of the story it endeavours to tell.