The Troth: With music, dance, play retells 1915 story of WW1 soldiers

‘Ask the soldier, where does he go’ – the poet Maqdoom wrote in what was to become an anti-war anthem in the 1960 Hindi film -Usne Kaha Tha.

The question has taken centre-stage once again, with a play that pays homage to the almost forgotten sacrifice of over one million Indian soldiers who were made to leave for unknown lands during the First World War.

Many of them never returned. But some stories did manage to find their way back home.

One such story was Chandradhar Sharma Guleri’s -Usne Kaha Tha, around which the film – with Maqdoom’s haunting ‘Jaane waale sipahi se poochho wo kahaan ja raha hai’ – was based.

The story, written in 1915, was recently staged as ‘The Troth’ in five cities in India including New Delhi, Jaipur and Bhopal by a group called the Akademi, a leading producer of Indian dance in the UK.

The Troth began as the seed of an idea when it was announced that the UK would be commemorating the centenary of World War I,” Akademi director Mira Kaushik said. The contribution of Indian soldiers to the Allied war effort is little remembered outside India, she said.

“With the UK-India Year of Culture marking 70 years of Indian independence, I saw an opportunity to re-tell the story with a vivid blend of dance, film and music,” the UK-based Kaushik told PTI, adding that she had read the story as a student of Hindi literature in India.

The live production was staged at the Rashtrapati Bhavan recently. In the audience was President Ram Nath Kovind, along with BJP veteran Lal Krishna Advani, cabinet ministers Hardeep Puri and Harsimrat Kaur and war veterans and officers from the sikh regiment. Set in Amritsar, The Troth is the story of soldier Lehna Singh’s love, loss and sacrifice against the backdrop of the horror and conflict of World War I.

The stage version is vastly different from the film, a Bimal Roy production.

“But then that film was based on World War II…and the war section is very small. So I knew I was not going to repeat anything,” she said.

The play, told through a series of dance movements, has been directed by Gary Clarke, an award-wining director-choreographer.

“We knew we were creating a very passionate untold story on stage. It is a human story first and then anything else. Gary was aware of both the Indian sensibilities and the passion of the creative sector,” she said.

Kaushik was hands-on, too.

“I knew we could not afford any mistake as people here are very emotional about this story- so, yes, for this project I as a producer was breathing down their neck and made sure that everything was correct to the last detail – from the dupattas to the pagris,” she said.

To give an authentic touch to the project, original archival footage and photographs courtesy the Imperial War Museum were used on stage. The production, which took a year to be ready, was also staged in Kurukshetra and Jabalpur. It is now touring the UK and its finale will take place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on May 5.

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