After a critically acclaimed international tour, The Coolie Odyssey – Rajesh Gopie’s delicate and insightful
production looking at the lives of indentured workers from India, who arrived in Natal to work on the sugar plantations, has been re-worked and re-directed by Gopie for a commemorative season honoring the Indian legacy and heritage in South Africa
It focuses on the indenture of workers from India for the sugar plantations in Natal between the years 1860 to 1911. It combines compassion with humor to reveal important insights into the identity of South African Indians, their role, significance and contribution to out country’s narrative, and the ongoing issues of race relations and nation-building.
Its plot unfolds as the story-teller – a monkey, with memories of previous human incarnations – types up his story on an old typewriter. His story unveils the life of Ramlal Kihari, an indentured laborer, who arrived in Durban in 1888. We follow Ramlal as he searches for identity, belonging and salvation against the backdrop of those pioneering colonial times. The scope of this play is panoramic, yet detailed and nuanced with pathos, live musical accompaniment and theatrical imagination.
The cast includes newcomers Yateen Dayaram; Thiru Naidoo; Avershree Maistry as well seasoned actors Conrad Kemp and Rajesh Gopie. The live score is sung by Mumbai based Sufi singing star, Anuraag Dounidyal.
“Beautifully conceived and presented, The Coolie Odyssey is a labyrinth of three stories, deftly folded together, about the arrival in South Africa of three Indian immigrants who decide to leave the grinding poverty and hopelessness of their native Calcutta. Tied together, the stories tell of the complex ties that have been forged between the past and the present, modernity and ancestry, and ultimately, between living on the fringe and truly belonging.” Tanya Jonker-Bryce, Eastern Cape Daily Dispatch.
“Comes the moment, comes the play. A classic immigrant’s tale infused with sympathetic magic and empathic insights, The Coolie Odyssey is the finest of rebukes to Mbongeni Ngema’s hateful anti-Indian songs. Gopie has crafted a humane and engaging piece of theatre that affirms and gently asserts the role of Indian South Africans in our history while being unflaggingly engaging. This is more than a journey, it is a homecoming.” Darryl Accone, then-Cue Arts Editor.