Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into ‘Silence’ & the 1947 Partition

In an interview with DESIblitz, Iqbal Khan explores Tara Theatre’s ‘Silence’, spotlighting the untold stories of the 1947 Partition.

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - F

"So many suffered and survived in many different ways."

In the heart of the UK’s vibrant theatre scene, a remarkable production is set to embark on a journey promising to enlighten audiences nationwide.

Tara Theatre’s latest offering, Silence, directed by Iqbal Khan, is a poignant exploration of a pivotal moment in history that has shaped the destinies of millions.

As we sit down with Khan, we delve into the essence of Silence, a production that seeks to bridge the past with the present, giving voice to the untold stories of the 1947 Partition.

With a stellar cast including Tia Dutt, Alexandra D’Sa, Aaron Gill, Mamta Kaash, Asif Khan, and Bhasker Patel, Silence is poised to be a theatrical masterpiece.

The play, inspired by Kavita Puri’s acclaimed book ‘Partition Voices: Untold British Stories’, and penned by a talented quartet of writers, promises an updated script and set design that breathes new life into the narratives of those who lived through the partition.

Opening at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, with subsequent performances across prestigious venues, this tour is a testament to the legacy of Abdul Shayek.

As Khan shares his insights and the profound impact of directing Silence, we uncover the layers of this necessary and vibrant work.

It’s a story of resilience, shared histories, and the silent echoes of a past that continues to resonate in the present.

How does Silence enhance understanding of British, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi history?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 2I think it shatters any easy binary or reductive sense of, say, the evil and complacent British, versus the victimised Indians.

This is a complex and horrific episode in the history of the birth of the new India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (West Pakistan as it was then).

The legacy of British culpability and the inconceivable horrors of the violence of partition, the tracing of the younger generation of British Asians coming to terms with their own links to this history, is all explored.

And it is done with nuance, courage and generosity.

How does adapting Partition survivors’ testimonies into Silence enhance its significance?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 3Kavita’s brilliant collection of testimonies is available, as is the series she did on iPlayer.

There we have the actual voices and context of the people from whom the writers selected for this adaptation.

The difference has to do with how the many different facts, the matrix of traumas and heroism, of cruelty and compassion the book catalogues and the experience of being in the company of these people.

Not just understanding but being immersed, feeling what it is like to be them.

To share a room with them, as it were – was a much more emotionally immediate and surprising experience.

We also have the opportunity to represent the range of experiences against each other, so you come away with a vivid sense of the expansive experiences across divisions of religion, place and generations.

How have the script and set design updates since the 2022 Donmar Warehouse run impacted the production?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 4The set and the design have been completely reimagined.

Rachana Jadhav has created a space that allows both the sacred and the poetic to exist.

There is an element of projection and ensemble storytelling.

We have a slightly smaller number of actors who share these testimonies, but it is a very exciting collection of actors, most of them new to the piece.

Seeta Patel is our movement director and brings rigorous precision and imagination to the work.

The script was developed by Abdul (Shayek, Original Director of Silence in 2022), the balance and rhythm of the show have shifted but essentially the voices we hear are those that were present before.

How does directing Silence and continuing Abdul Shayek’s legacy impact you as his friend and colleague?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 1Abdul’s loss is devastating but his legacy is enormous.

He was determined that wider audiences and communities around the country would share in this play and a legacy would be created for it.

I feel only gratitude for and privileged to have the responsibility to create the best possible version we can to honour his ambition.

How do you accurately and respectfully portray Partition survivors’ testimonies in Silence?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 5It is obviously important to be informed as much as possible about the politics and history of Partition, while really immersing ourselves in the texture of the lived testimony in Kavita’s book.

But, ultimately, the writers who wrote their versions inspired by the originals have created something that must be our primary guide.

Each character tells their story in different ways and we as a company have sought to mine this truth and find the appropriate form for communicating it.

This is not about realism, but transformation and emotional truth.

Each actor has their own experience, parallels that inform their work.

It is down to me to create a room where all feel safe to encounter difficult, traumatic truths, to hold the rage and despair with compassion, so that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough and generous in the way we share this with each other and, eventually, an audience.

What do you hope audiences unfamiliar with Partition history will learn from Silence?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 6I hope they will not leave with any easy conclusions, because there aren’t any.

I hope we can make them feel the extraordinary spirit of the people who survived this devastating chapter.

I hope they leave with a more complex understanding of the factors that went into partition and with a sense of the awful impulses that these kinds of imposed divisions can release in all communities.

And finally, I hope they leave knowing that this is also a part of living British history, the history of so many who have now made Britain their home and have contributed so much to making it the vibrant place it is.

How does Silence handle the complexities of representing diverse perspectives through communal storytelling?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 7The complexities of presenting the multiple perspectives is the point of the piece.

There is no defining authoritative account.

So many suffered and survived in many different ways.

Our challenge is to present these as truthfully and clearly as possible, to build the matrix of experience and allow the audience to feel and reflect in the way they need.

I want to be careful not to distort or distract, to aestheticize these experiences.

How do initiatives like the Abdul Shayek Directors Fellowship promote diversity and inclusion in UK theatre?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 9This play is made by a company of actors who represent models for those coming into our industry that opportunities exist and are growing.

The creative team and producers all, similarly, I hope encourage all that the widest diversity of voices are included in leading and shaping the work to come.

And, finally, this is a play that shows we can take charge of the stories told and re-centre them, and adjust the way our histories are talked about.

I saw the original production at the Donmar and was very aware of how moved and shocked audiences were by it.

All audiences, of whatever background, seemed to recognise it as a part of their history, whether that be the stories of their ancestors directly, or an opening up of history of Britain and its legacy of Empire.

How do you see Silence shaping future discussions on Partition’s legacy and its modern impact?

Iqbal Khan Dives Deep into 'Silence' & the 1947 Partition - 8Sharing this play with wider audiences in the regions is incredibly exciting and important.

There are generations of people from the South Asian communities who will not know this history and those who will I hope recognise and share in the truth of it.

It is critically important at this time to share how easily an imposed sense of difference, however that’s defined, through religion, class, race, and a competition for resources based on those differences can unleash the worst violence and rupture in our societies.

It is important to resist this rhetoric, to celebrate and embrace the differences between our neighbours. To be nourished by them.

Those that survived the trauma of partition are the greatest guide to understanding the resilience and generosity of spirit required to grow beyond hate.

There is only hope in choosing inclusion and love over division.

As our conversation with Iqbal Khan draws to a close, it’s clear that Silence is more than just a theatrical production.

Khan’s dedication to continuing Abdul Shayek’s legacy through Silence is palpable, as is his commitment to sharing this vibrant piece of work with audiences far and wide.

Through the power of communal storytelling and the personal testimonies of those who lived through the last days of the British Raj, Silence offers a unique opportunity for reflection, understanding, and connection.

As Silence prepares to make its mark on stages across the UK, we are reminded of the importance of storytelling in bridging divides and healing wounds.

Ravinder is a Content Editor with a strong passion for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. When she's not writing, you'll find her scrolling through TikTok.

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