“Early in 2018, when the playwright (Shakthidharan) and director (Eamon Flack) first came to my city Bengaluru, India for a quick audition, I was already in love with the script, which had been emailed to me. Several months later, when they came for the confirming audition, my plans had changed: my daughter was to get married in January 2019 and I couldn’t be a part of this production.
I felt bad. My wife and daughters felt worse. I had read parts of the script to them and they saw how moved I was by it. We are a family immersed in amateur theatre for three generations (I grew up in a parental home named ‘Green Room’). Let me tell you why the play is so important to us.
If democracy simply means “rule of the majority,” it could mean something very dangerous in my country, India, because “A majority of whom?” would be the question then. With our identity politics of religion, caste or language, it is easy to conceptualise, alienate and objectify several ‘minorities’, overlapping in impossible Venn diagrams.
American ethicist and political commentator Reinhold Niebuhr famously said, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” But is democracy by itself enough as a guarantor of justice? With identity politics, a majority is not made of, or by, a number of voting individuals, but the larger groups or communities.
‘Counting and Cracking’ gets it in a telling way. It is about Sri Lanka, and about democracy. For me, it is about India and any other democracy of the world. We all see the agenda of getting just the mathematics right, where a notional majority or minority seems to be asking at each election, “Whose country is it, anyway?”
So, in my own vast and complex nation, when some of “us” look at some of “them”, I often think we should tell ourselves, “who we are is who we were,” as says Anthony Hopkins, playing John Quincy Adams in the movie ‘Amistad’, for we have been either there or that, some time or the other. And this is not to be politically correct, for I believe it is as evil to manufacture through identity politics a “minority”, as it is to make the “majority”.
My family said I had to be in Counting and Cracking. I told them what that entailed: we would need to move the wedding date and I would have to give up nice-pay roles in some movies and web series at the time of our fat Indian wedding. But my crazy wife and children managed to arrange a change of wedding date and let me travel to Australia.
I think this production is a big deal. I also think it shows great gumption and generosity for Belvoir to pick up such a challenge – a reckoning of the troubled history of a once-colonised nation, a narrative of migrants, performed by actors from places and origins as diverse as Palestine, Fiji and, of course, south Asia. It warms my heart that a community of sponsors, organisers and theatre-loving people is willing to come together to participate in this collaboration, which is at once an attempt to understand and reconcile.”
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To hear Prakash speak to Kumud Merani of SBS Hindi about democracy, majoritarianism and Counting and Cracking’s significant relevance in our current climate of global political instability, listen to the recording below.