Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti made headlines when her play, Behtzi (Dishonour) was forced to close in 2004 after stormy protest in Birmingham from within her own Sikh community. Behtzi went on to win the coveted Susan Smith Blackburn award and Bhatti’s writing career has subsequently blossomed. She’s now a member of The Archers writing team!
The bravery and courage it took to criticise elements within her own community – male elders and female collusion – may perhaps have mellowed over time. Her writing has certainly become more sophisticated. But if Khandan’s writing style is subtler, Bhatti is still no less critical of her own. There is scarcely a character onstage without human flaws whilst Bhatti retains her greatest indictment, one feels, for the materialism striking at the heart of the Asian community’s economic concentration on retail and latterly Care Homes. In another time, Bhatti’s play might just as well have been applied in a Jewish context to describe Jewish immigrants making their way in a new country, confronting issues of marrying `out’ and retaining romantic longings of `home’ – in this case, the Punjab.
At the centre of Khandan is a fierce engagement with the notion of `family’, its rituals, its strictures, and surprisingly and welcomingly, when the going gets tough, as a bastion of survival.
The great survivor – and matriarch – here is Jeeto (Sudha Buchar, Tamasha’s outgoing artistic director) ruling her family on traditional values in which family `honour’ takes pride of place but under constant threat from the liberal life styles of modern, urban Britain.
With perhaps too much of an eye to soap opera, one personal drama follows another. But winningly, not only does Bhatti have the gift of creating character but also of supplying complexities that raise it above melodrama.
Roxana Silbert’s Birmingham production with its video projections provides a rich cultural hinterland of Bollywood fantasy, suburban conformity and high-rises and through it all is Bhuchar’s rock solid Jeeto – at once dictatorial, conservative, yet without self pity when hard times come.
Bhuchar recently wrote the excellent My Name Is…about a real life `mixed marriage’ tragedy and it is her performance that provides this production with its core conviction and truth.