The story of India’s involvement in World War I is perhaps not as well known as it deserves to be. Then still a part of the British Empire, India provided more than 1.3 million men for active service with the allies, the largest voluntary force ever assembled.
The Troth is dedicated to the memory of the 60,000 Indian soldiers who died in WWI.
Brought to us by Akademi, a London-based South Asian dance organisation, The Troth was choreographed by Gary Clarke in collaboration with dance and theatre dramaturg Lou Cope. Film input comes from Josh Hawkins and lighting is by Charles Webber.
The Troth grabs the audience from the very beginning: a jolly market scene set in 1888 Amritsar, where the bustling crowds are represented by four male and one female dancer, performing a stylised version of Indian dancing. The men are boisterous, given to jumping with raised knees and larking with each other, the young woman, Leela, danced the beautiful Vidya Patel, is fresh and elegant with her undulating arms and torso and fast moving, gyrating footwork.
She bumps into the young Sardar Lehna Singh (Subhash Viman Gorania). The attraction is mutual: 'Are you betrothed?’ he asks…. On their third encounter, the answer is yes – to another.
The story is told not only through dancing and expressive mime, but also through original footage projected onto the backcloth, as well as key parts of the dialogue captioned on the same backcloth within the flowery frames characteristic of silent cinema.
The projection of a faded old poster showing a rampant lion in army uniform under the slogan ‘The Empire Needs Men’ moves the action seven years on, to a recruitment drive by the British Army. Lehna joins up.
And then war is declared. By now Leela’s husband and son have joined too, and she begs Lehna to protect them both, in a profoundly affecting scene, she all anguish, arms stretched, hands clasped, he striving to keep a respectful distance, though his whole being yearns for her.
The war scenes, played against the background of original war footage, are harrowing; all three, Lehna, and Leela’s husband and son are wounded. Faithful to his promised, Lehna foregoes his place in a small ambulance so the two can be saved.
As they leave, he asks them ‘When you see her, tell her that I kept my troth’.
In the final scene, heralded by the the words ‘The memory becomes luminous just before death’, the dying Lehha dreams of home and a tender, loving encounter with the woman the memory of whom never left him. It's a heart-breaking moment, one that brings tears to the eyes.
The Troth is a remarkable work, which through an individual story of love and sacrifice manages to bring home the huge scale of India’s contribution to the Allied war effort; and the horrendous human cost its people paid.
It is a much needed act of remembrance, and a fitting one in this, the year that marks the centenary of the end of that devastating war.
Akademi’s digital film of The Troth, commissioned by The Space and recorded at the UK premiere in Leicester, is online available on Akademi’s Facebook and YouTube channels until 31 May 2018.
|What||Akademi, The Troth Review|
|Where||Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
On 05 May 18, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour approx
|Price||£18-£24 (limited concessions)|
|Website||Click here to book via the southbank centre|