SEPTEMBER 2022 | Volume 219
Salim Rahemtulla’s first play is a semi-autobiographical drama about an Ismaili family in Kampala, Uganda, in 1972, facing Idi Amin’s order expelling Asians, including most Asian-Ugandans, from the country within 90 days. Directed my Melissa Oei, the Western Gold production vividly conveys the anxieties and terrors of forced migration generally and the specific torments suffered by the playwright’s own family.
The fictionalized Rahim familyis blindsided by Amin’s dictate. Patriarch Yusuf (Dhirendra) refuses to believe that it will actually happen, and clings with increasing desperation to the idea that he can stay and run his store no matter what. His wife Parin (Nimet Kanji) and teenage son Nasser (Akshaya Pattanayak) are much more realistic and understand what’s going on. Daughter Shamira (Sabrina Vellani) sides with her father. She wants to stay and finish her college teacher-training. Despite her mother’s disapproval, she also has an African boyfriend at school whom she doesn’t want to leave.
As things get worse, the army’s crackdown becomes more violent, and foreign borders begin closing to Asian Ugandan refugees, the family pressures Shamira to go to Canada, and she is accepted. That door closes to the rest of the family, and even though we know that they will eventually get here (since this is the playwright’s own story, and he is obviously the Nasser character), there’s a good deal of chaotic suspense towards the end, especially after family friend Munir (ParmSoor) disappears into a notorious military prison.
The play isn’t completely dark. There are many humourous moments and nice generational tension between the rather traditional parents and the thoroughly modern, already semi-westernized kids. Shamira quotes Bob Dylan to her mother and Nasser sings and dances to the Rolling Stones.Canada (“the promised land”) and the United Nations come off very well in the play. Uganda not so much, nor racist Britain nor India, Kenya, and Tanzania that closed their borders to the stateless Asians. The characters leave with a bittersweet nostalgia for Uganda, Yusuf repeating with irony a saying about the nation’s weather: “It’s always a beautiful day in Uganda.”
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