Parah exposes racial divides

Sep 23, 2013

This work by young Malaysian playwright Alfian Sa’at highlights the artistic, social and cultural relevance of Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival.

Sa’at – winner of a program created by director Jo Kukathas to encourage new Malaysian writing –  has created a play that is set in Malaysia yet also resonates with our own Australian racial issues and those in other pluralistic societies. In Malaysia, a political party ran with the notion of there being “1 Malaysia”, which is reminiscent of our own “One Nation”; rather than seeking to genuinely unite a nation, these political groups seem to want power for one particular dominant culture, while cunningly claiming they promote equality among all races.

Parah is the story of four friends who are about to complete their secondary studies; they are from Indian, Malay and Chinese origins, and the tensions that surface within their group reflect the tensions in their community and internationally.  Racial slurs are common throughout the world but they have the power to insult and injure, even when friends use them in supposed harmless fun.  Hafiz (Iedil Putra), the Malaysian boy, uses a derogatory term for his Indian friend, Mahesh ( Branavan Aruljothi) in jest, but eventually the friendly racial taunting is perceived as discriminatory and hurtful.

The racial comments are compounded because the Malaysian government has approved a novel which refers to both Indians and Chinese pejoratively. Mahesh and other Indian students protest to their teacher and principal about the novel and its language, and their actions create division between the boys and their other mates, Kahoe (Gregory Sze) and Mehur (Farah Rani).

Parah begins with four playful friends but the group dynamics change and the important issues they face create dramatic tension and rifts between them. The four actors are impressive in their characterisations, playfulness and in capturing the nature of young adults dealing with personal and social issues in the latter years of their schooling. They are particularly strong when their friendship falters, and in moving monologues where their personal stories and experiences of racism are revealed.

Alfian Sa’at’s script is delivered at a fast pace and the numerous ideas to do with race and politics, the accurate recording of history, political correctness, standing up for yourself and your beliefs encourage the audience to think deeply about issues that are impacting on individuals in many countries.

Jo Kukathas’ direction allows the audience to respect and understand each of the individuals, their backgrounds and the positions they adopt, which encourages constructive debate about racism and the significant impact language and, in particular, certain words can have on individuals and whole groups of people.

Parah is presented by The Instant Cafe Theatre Company at Her Majesty’s Theatre, with the final performance this morning at 11am.

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