Mission Kashmir: A Tribute To Hans Christian Ostro

22 June 2015
The Hindustan Times
Arundhati Chatterjee

New Delhi: In 1995, a few western tourists were abducted and consequently beheaded by the rebels in the turmoil-stricken Kashmir Valley. The violent details were covered extensively by the national as well as the international media. Among the tourists to be kidnapped and killed was Norwegian performer Hans Christian Ostro. Theatre director, Shubhrojyoti Barat had a brief encounter with Ostro, before the latter left for Kashmir. The meeting left an indelible mark on his life, and forms the plot of his new play, Song Of The Swan. About the theme of the play, Barat says, 'The main impetus behind conceiving this is a personal encounter that I had with Hans Christian Ostro. Also, Asad (Hussain; writer) and I were trying to focus on this tragedy, which is referred to as 'collateral damage'. We're trying to focus on the loss of innocent human lives in a place of strife.' Earlier this year, Ostro's mother, Marit Hesby, was in the city. During her visit, the actors narrated the script to her. The director says it was a moving experience for the team, and believes everybody involved in the production 'has a personal connect with the play now'. Written in the form of testimonials - based on real-life characters as well as some fictional ones - the play is woven together with a host of theatrical devices such as surreal props, stylised movement and choreography. Dance is a core element of the performance, as Ostro had gone to Kerala to learn Kathakali. But there were challenges involved in the portrayal. Barat explains, 'It was only natural to include the dance form in the performance. But one must remember that our actors are mainly people of urban upbringing. Rajshri Deshpande Puranik, an actor and a student of Kathakali, helped us. She choreographed the dance sequence and trained the actors. It was a tough job; both to teach and to learn.' Intensive research went into writing this play. For the same, Barat's friend, writer Sapan Saran, got in touch with Hans's family in Norway, and also spent a day with Hesby and his sister, Annette Ostro. 'She gathered a lot of information about Hans's life right from his childhood up to the time he travelled to India,' he says.