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Tuesday, September 15, 2015


(Pranesh Maharaj plays Balram)

Pranesh Marahaj’s virtuoso performance allows the play to be fully effective. (Review by Keith Millar)

God Gave Me This Life is the English language version of the successful Hindi play Bhagwan Gave Me This Life which was first produced by Polart Productions in 2013.

The English translation will make this thoughtful one-hander accessible to a far larger audience. This is a good thing because this little gem of a production deserves all the recognition it can get.

God Gave Me This Life, which has just finished a short run at the Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf in Durban, was written and directed by Polart’s Artistic Director, Vivian Moodley. Moodley is an industry veteran who has been involved in every aspect of the performing arts during his illustrious career.

He is a keen observer of the human condition, and in this play tackles issues of loneliness, loss, ageing and depression. He is also a skilful wordsmith and has created a realistic and well-formed scenario – and, although the theme is serious, it is not without its moments of humour and fun.

Set in 1981 in Inanda the story tells of Balram an elderly widower who lives alone in his wood and iron house. His only company is a semi-tame bird who he feeds on a daily basis and shares his stories with. Balram is an unsophisticated but warm and engaging fellow who lives a good and honest life.

He is very proud that when he was younger he had a career as a street sweeper with the Municipality. His life was uncomplicated at that time and he lived happily with his wife by an arranged marriage, his parents and his brother. Quite late in life, his wife gives birth to a boy and he thinks he believes his happiness is complete.

However, his life is hit by series of serious of tragedies and he finds himself alone with only a bird for company.

Balram is not particularly bitter. He firmly believes that God Gives You This Life and it is His right to take back from you. But he can’t help questioning why all this unhappiness and loneliness has been visited on him. He has been a good man and when will Karma pay him his dues. He ponders these issues until, in the end, he finds his own personal answer to his woes.

God Gave Me this Life works on several levels. Firstly, it serves as an important dramatised cultural record of the Indian community who lived in the wood and iron houses in Inanda for many years. Then it raises questions about many issues such as loneliness, depression, cultural values, community spirit and old age.

Finally, it is a work which offers an actor the opportunity to deliver a virtuoso performance in order for it to be fully effective.

 It is just such a performance that was delivered by Pranesh Maharaj in the current production. He breathes life into the Balram character with his powerful, intense, emotional and sensitive portrayal. He also creates many other delightful characters during the telling of the story and, for good measure, proves that he is quite an accomplished song and dance man.

The imaginative set of the back yard of a ramshackle wood and iron house is also most effective and evokes the perfect setting for the action.

God Gave Me This Life is a meaningful and insightful work which deserves to be successful. I understand that there are plans to take the production further afield. Look out for it and don’t miss if you get the chance. – Keith Millar