Kal Mansoor, a British-Indian actor, grew up in Britain wanting to be an actor. However, he never had a role model; there was no popular Indian actor who played the lead role, saved the day, and got the girl. After years of playing taxi drivers and terrorists, Mansoor began to write A Brief History of Colonization, hoping to make a horrific tale of subjugation and degradation comical. Mansoor’s play, directed by Wheatley’s own Rick Allen Wilson, tells the story of Kal himself, but in an alternate reality of sorts, one in which he has just received a large inheritance from his grandfather. With this money, Kal wants to tell the story of colonization in India, using famous Indian actors and being nothing but truthful in his retelling.
Mansoor masterfully incorporates comedy and absurdism in his play in order to engage the audience as he tells a horrific story without becoming too dark in tone. Mansoor is evidently passionate about conveying his anger with the entertainment industry and its stereotypes. The show begins with Mansoor showing the audience how inaccurate and deceiving Christopher Nolan’s war epic, Dunkirk, is. Mansoor’s ancestors, Indians, died fighting for a country thousands of miles away from them, a country that had stripped them of their rights and freedoms. However, not one Indian appears in Dunkirk. Mansoor could have easily highlighted his his anger and frustration, displaying the colonization and subsequent partition of India in a bloody, dark, and unfortunately realistic tone. Instead, while Mansoor definitely conveys the facts and centers on the devastation the British Empire caused in India, he does so in such a way that the audience does not feel awkward or as if they are at an activist rally.
Take the opening scene, for example. Mansoor stands in the dark, waiting for the play to begin. When it does, he screams “Allahu Akbar,” an Islamic phrase meaning God is the greatest that has been used by terrorists; the audience looks at one and another, confused. It is then revealed Mansoor is at an audition, trying to get the role of a terrorist. He then argues with the casting director, gets called a Muslim (even though he is Indian), and leaves while shouting an expletive to the casting director. It is all very fun, but at the same time doesn’t take away from the message; the audience still understands that the crux of this issue stems from false stereotypes and begins to sympathize with Mansoor’s struggles, even if they are laughing. Subsequently, a great relationship between Mansoor and his audience is created from the get-go: you laugh, but also feel inclined to be this man’s friend, as he is passionate, funny, and courageous.
This comedy then continues mostly through Mansoor’s impersonations of famous American actors, all of whom attempt to portray stereotypical Indians and Muslims. Again, Mansoor’s message comes through perfectly: he is frustrated his distributor is forcing him to have Jason Statham and Ben Affleck portray false stereotypes of Indians, but it isn’t a rant or prolonged monologue. He impersonates Jason Statham, adopting a deep voice and cocky persona, eager to kick his enemies just as Statham is. It is funny and pleasing but also gets his message across, a difficult feat.
However, this is not to say Mansoor is not also emotional in his delivery, conveying this horrific colonization in exact detail and straying away from the comedy at times. This emotion comes through Sanjay and Aziz, two Indians confused by colonization, fighting a war for another country and people, and ultimately saying goodbye to one and other due to the partition separating India and Pakistan. Aziz is optimistic for the majority of the play, coming off as almost oblivious to his surroundings. Of course, this is just a coping mechanism. Sanjay, on the other hand, is depressed and emotional. He knows he may die and never get to ask the girl he likes out because he is fighting for British men, women, and children, people who would not do the same for him. This discrepancy between Sanjay’s and Aziz’s personalities allows for fantastic back-and-forth, emotion-filled discussions. However, these conversations are only impactful due to Mansoor’s delivery. As Sanjay, you can see the tears in his eyes, the sadness in his shaky voice; two seconds later, he is now Aziz, tearless and full of optimism and hope. He talks loudly and confidently, as if he is looking for validation from Sanjay. Without such a convincing performance, a core emotional story included in this play would be lost.
Furthermore, the entire third act of the play focuses on Mansoor’s frustration with his distributor, who tells him he cannot tell an accurate depiction of a massacre where nearly a thousand Indians were killed at gunpoint by the Royal Army. Perhaps more important than Mansoor’s refusal to portray this event in anything but a realistic manner is how he decides to end the show. He loses his opportunity to direct a movie, to tell his people’s story. He is signifying to the audience that the suppression and neglect of this story continue into the present, and simply tells the audience “I leave the next story to you.” The audience is left wondering if their people, whomever that may be, have a story being suppressed, and if they too need to fight against stereotypes. It is a fitting, emotional ending to the third act, but more importantly, the play as a whole.