Himmat: compassionate storytelling — that could go deeper

publicity photo for Himmat

Gavan Cheema and Munish Sharma in Himmat (Photo: Wendy D Photography)

There are significant successes in Gavan Cheema’s Himmat — and there’s room for improvement as this young playwright moves forward. So, yeah, this review is going to be celebratory — and a little teachy. You’ve been warned.

The script’s greatest gift is compassion. The central relationship is between a young woman named Ajit and her dad, Banth, who’s a recovering alcoholic. Banth damaged his family, especially Ajit’s older siblings, but Cheema presents Banth as a whole person, not a demon, and the central subjects that emerge are love and redemption.

As The Georgia Straight’s interview with Cheema reveals, Himmat is a fictionalized autobiography. Like Banth, Cheema’s dad emigrated from the Punjab to the Lower Mainland and worked hard — in lumber mills, as a roofer, and as a truck driver. And, like Banth, he started telling the story of his life to his young adult daughter when he was in the hospital being treated for cancer.

Cheema contextualizes Banth’s addiction as a response to the chronic physical pain that can be the toll of a life of labour, and as a reaction to the stresses of immigration. Banth worked with broken fingers. When he broke his leg, his coworkers left him in the back of a van for the rest of the day and his boss discouraged him from making a claim. When racists verbally assaulted Banth and his new wife Bachani, he cut his hair — a big deal for this Sikh — and then couldn’t sleep.

Cheema balances all of this with marvellously quirky details, which often emerge in the play’s many flashbacks. Banth has an abiding affection for Alvin and the Chipmunks, for instance, because, watching those cartoons, he and his new wife Bachani got their first lessons in English. There’s a running gag about Banth’s obsession with Costco. From his hospital bed, he tells Bachani to buy some batteries there. When she protests that their house is already full of Costco batteries, he insists: “If they’re on sale, just get some.” Especially in his relationship with Ajit, Banth reveals himself as a jovial, loving guy — roughhousing with her and cajoling her to work beside him to repair his truck. [Read more…]

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