Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi (21st Birthday Festival)

Co-production with Pursued by a Bear

by Satinder Chohan

December 2012

UK Tour

In a game of attack and defence, who breathes first?

A powerful new drama about sport, nationality and belonging, with a haunting love story at its heart. From the red dust of Punjab to the Olympic stadiums of Europe this intense new drama explores the Indian sport of Kabaddi and its place on the world stage. Against a backdrop of Indian revolutionary fervour, two players compete for a place in the team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and for the love of Azadeh, a freedom fighter and outcast with a troubled past. Structured like the two halves of a Kabaddi game, this production recreates the raw physicality of combat in a compelling story of the struggle to win.

★★★★ Helena Bell’s production magnificently manages the blend of sport and war, raiders and defenders fighting it out over a chapati-flour frontier in the Akhara, as the ghosts swirl up in dreams of red dust…The three actors give impressive, compelling performances in this small, warm space.
– What’s on Stage

-The Public Reviews

An evocative, compelling piece of theatre…
– The Birmingham Post

Chohan captures cleverly the ironies and complexities of British Asian identity with wit and depth…
– PULSE Magazine

I found this a bold and compelling piece of work… one of the best small-scale touring pieces of writing I have seen this year… If we were in the game of giving stars, this would be a 4. As an example of Asian derived work that spoke to a modern mixed audience I think it was a huge success. I think it to be encouraged in these austere times that such 3 way partnerships can emerge to bring Colchester Mercury/Kali and PBAB together.
– Jack Bradley (formerly Literary Manager of the National Theatre) Arts Council, England’s Artistic Assessor

Writer Satinder Chohan

Satinder Chohan is a journalist and documentary researcher/assistant producer turned playwright from Southall, West London.

About the writer
The Play

…an evocative, compelling piece of theatre … with impressive performances

Birmingham Post

Chohan captures cleverly the ironies and complexities of British Asian identity with wit and depth…. I urge viewers to support this important and groundbreaking work to ensure that such beautifully told stories reach a wider public domain and excite the British consciousness.

Pulse Magazine

The three actors give impressive, compelling performances in this small, warm space

The Reviews Hub

November 8 – 10 7.45pm


Mercury Theatre

01206 573948


November 17 7.30pm


The Cut

0845 6732123


November 19 7.30pm


Arena Theatre

01902 321321


November 21 7.45pm


The Public

0121 533 7161


November 27 8.00pm


Midlands Arts Centre

0121 446 3232


November 30 – December 1 7.30pm


Mumford Theatre

Anglia Ruskin University

0845 196 2320


December 4-8 8pm


Arcola Theatre

020 7503 1646

Cast | Creatives

Cast and Crew

Pushpinder Chani, Asif Khan and Shalini Peiris
Helena Bell
Sophia Lovell Smith
Mark Dymock
Arun Ghosh
Helena Bell
Jasmine Simhalan

‘KabaddiKabaddiKabaddi’ is a multi-layered ‘two-time’ play, shifting between a 1930s/1940s village in Punjab, (British) India and a UK construction site close to the building of the 2012 Olympic Stadium in East London.

The play takes its name from ‘kabaddi’ an ancient Asian combative sport and alleged demonstration sport at the 1936 Berlin ‘Nazi’ Olympics. ‘Kabaddi’ involves methods of self-defence, counter-attack and the crossing of boundary lines into opposition territory, while withholding the breath and repeatedly chanting ‘kabaddi’. In Hindi, ‘kabaddi’ means ‘holding of breath.’ The play opens with the breath of rebirth as a newly arrived immigrant is washed up on a European coastline. It ends with a breath extinguished. The breathless chanting of ‘kabaddi’ takes us back to the 1930s, to a rural Indian village where young men engage in a wrestling ‘survival of the fittest’. Transposed to 21st century urban Britain, a different ‘survival of the fittest’ plays out through a subsequent generation.

As defenders and raiders/attackers cross into one another’s territory, ‘KabaddiKabaddiKabaddi’ is about ‘faujis’ (illegal Indian immigrants in Britain) who cross not only physical, cultural and historical borders – but emotional, psychological and memorial borders within. For faujis in Britain, kabaddi is sport. It is memory. It is defence.

Structured like two halves of a kabaddi game, the play uses the raw power of kabaddi, its agility and movement, non-naturalistically, punctuating the narrative and emotional action, like a Greek Chorus.
The same three actors portray the members of the earlier generation, shifting between past and present. The play is staged around ladders, action being undertaken on rooftops above and village spaces/streets below, in both Punjab and East London.

The action works towards an incident in which the past collides with the present – Sayeh and Dalbir argue at the top of the construction site. Sayeh holds Dalbir threateningly over the edge and rather than releasing her grip as she initially intends, she holds tighter and hauls him up from the edge. Actions have consequences over generations – but sometimes, the wrongful actions of the past can be expiated, rather than avenged.



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