At the 18th edition of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, a moving performance is set in a period which sheds light on the optimism of the Indian masses hoping for a transition from living under the tyranny of foreign colonial rule towards freedom and a self-autonomy, facilitating a new era where they will finally own themselves. Chaai Garam follows the labouring class’ dream of an idealised reality, of mass education, better living conditions, and improved sanitary conditions. However promising this idealised society seemed, the realisation that whether it was foreign or indigenous leadership, the change in their oppression and condition remained mostly negligent, wherein self-rule would still remain a distant reality, soon creeped up.
The play does not make use of much dialogue but the actors’ performance makes the labouring class’ lament of lack of self-respect and happiness, despite the transition from colonial leadership to indigenous government, quite clear. It invokes heart-rending emotions by highlighting the ill-treatment of the common people, their backwardness connected to their lack of educational opportunities, sustaining the gap between them and the rich and maintaining their oppressed conditions.
Throughout the play, despite the anger and misery experienced by the labouring class, a recurring theme of hope for their children and future generations persists. There is an underlying optimism that these future generations will dream bigger and attain better opportunities, ultimately leading to a brighter future. Regardless of the fact that their demands might not actually be heard, the play showcases a fierce resolution for their voices being raised and to create a commotion, irrespective of the final outcome. Their contentment lies in them commencing their protest and at the very least, taking any initial steps which might ameliorate their living conditions and enable them to finally ‘own’ themselves.