Khandan (Family) at The Royal CourtCultureTheatre
In 2004, Gupreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behtzi (Dishonour), was cancelled after causing huge riots by angry Sikhs incensed at her decision to set the drama in a gurdwara where inequity and sexual abuse are rife. In angst-ridden scenes hundreds of protesters gathered on consecutive nights, finally attempting to storm the theatre. Ten years on and Bhatti is back with a distinctly calmer reception as she explores the lives of a British Asian family where tradition has become distorted and familial duty has fallen to hedonistic success.
The Royal Court’s snug Jerwood theatre is transformed into a cosy family kitchen in the leafy suburbs of Birmingham. Portraits of gods and family photos adorn the walls, while perched on the edges of the scene, the audience become flies-on-the-wall themselves, peering into this intimacy. Jeeto, the family’s presiding matriarch, and her late husband arrived at Heathrow in 1969, building their small family shop up from nothing; it was like a “second birth” she recollects. After saving to secure their children a fine family home, she is ready to retire and dreams of the vast green expanses of her family farm in the Punjab.
Strict Indian tradition seems to have bypassed her children however. Her daughter Cookie is the proud owner of the tackiest beauty salon in Birmingham while her son Pal, married to a Birmingham blonde, has sold his father’s shop to fund a more lucrative retirement home providing “specialist care to old Asians”. While Jeeto and Pal’s Indophile wife Liz desperately anticipate his future as a father, Pal turns his back on family expectation. And with the arrival of Reeva, the abandoned wife of a Punjabi cousin, the family is swept into crisis.
With arching universal themes amid a multi-layered domestic landscape, Khandan combines a dashing of symbolism with fierce black comedy which frames the issues of this culturally disposed unit, all undercut with a profound melancholy. Bhatti splits our sympathies between Sudha Bhuchar’s Jeeto, whose determination and graft for a better life are intrinsically linked to family tradition and ancestral pride, while Rez Kempton’s Pal, a modern man attempting to fulfil his dreams in a modern world chimes with our Western ideologies.
This is a world of chips versus chah, procreation versus ambition and industrious hope versus entrenched work ethics, where modern desires are tainted by tradition and customs are threatened by rash aspirations. Carefully nuanced, with intricate, poignant motifs Bhatti presents a powerful portrayal of the simultaneously suffocating yet sacred bonds of family.
Khandan (Family) is on at The Royal Court until 28th June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Khandan here: