PETALING JAYA: Three boys, none of them older than 12, are crouched on the floor. One is dressed in a distinctive green army uniform. Each of them holds a long plank, which they brandish like a gun at each other while shouting.
Later, two of them approach a young girl, furious at her for daring to go to school. They empty her bags and take her books.
None of this is real, thankfully: it’s all part of a rehearsal by the cast of “Red Soil of Kabul”, a production by Parastoo Theatre, a refugee community theatre group in Kuala Lumpur.
Even knowing this, it’s still unnerving to see kids caught up in the trappings of battle and conflict. The grim reality of children at war is just one of the major themes of this new play by writer-director Saleh Sepas, which is based on the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 2021.
“I wrote this after three months of research. Everything in it is real. I read a lot of reports and I was in contact with many Afghans through my friends and several journalists there,” Saleh told FMT Lifestyle.
“It talks about human crises, child protection, and what happens when a government collapses,” said the 41-year-old, who arrived in Malaysia from Kabul in 2016 and founded the theatre group the following year.
“Red Soil of Kabul” tells the story of Hemmat (played by Seyed Masih Husseini), a 10-year-old boy who grows up on the narrow, dirty streets of Afghanistan’s capital.
The war has shaped much of his life, and he has been trained through his childhood games to be a strong mujahid – those engaged in jihad or holy war – and warrior.
Hemmat ends up crossing paths with Abbas (Namatullah Muradi), a young journalist who views the world in a completely different way. On Aug 15, the day of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban, Abbas is in a television studio that is stormed by a group of gunmen.
Later, when Abbas tries to leave the country, he finds it far more difficult than he expected. His and Hemmat’s lives intersect in dramatic fashion, as cultural and social changes start taking place all over the city.
This sets the stage for a harrowing tale of resilience and hope, exploring topics such as human rights, child protection, education, migration and refugee issues.
“I see this as a story of the clash between two ideologies: of the gun and of the pen. One is formed from war, the other from peace. And they come together in a way that doesn’t end well for some of the characters,” Saleh said.
The play features 16 actors, all of whom are Afghan refugees living in Malaysia. For 14 of them, this will mark their stage debut. This includes Saleh’s eight-year old son, Shahzad Sepas.
“Some have zero experience, but they are all excited to show their talent,” Saleh added. “I asked why they had come for auditions, and they said it had been their dream to be on the stage or in film.
“One actor even left his job in Penang and came here to be in the show.”
The cast hopes that everyone who watches the play will be more aware of the plight of Afghans, many of whom have been greatly affected by the fall of Kabul. They also hope for more cooperation and collaboration between local and refugee communities.
Actor Namatullah told FMT Lifestyle that being part of the production has been a gripping and thought-provoking experience.
“I feel the same way as my character Abbas, who is always looking for peace,” said the 20-year-old, who has been in Malaysia for over four years.
“We hope the play shows the real face of the Taliban,” he added. “All of us are not just refugees, we are human. We cannot show our talents in our home country now, but we hope Malaysians will enjoy our show.”
Actress Pariya Ahmadi, who plays Abbas’ fiancée Nasrin, said she was so moved by the script, she cried after reading it.
“Nasrin serves as a representation of the women of Afghanistan, and I am honoured to play her,” the 18-year-old said. “Reading about these women, who had no rights, who couldn’t go to school or work, or even go out without a man, was heartbreaking.
“We need the world to see the plight of the women in Afghanistan, and help them. Not just through words but through actual actions.”
According to Saleh, “Red Soil of Kabul” will be bigger, more serious, and more powerful than Parastoo Theatre’s previous production, “And Then Came Spring”, which was performed here last year.
To him, Parastoo is more than just a place where people can act; he views it as an arts academy, where refugees can be empowered and equipped with new skills to help them better serve the community.
“Parastoo does not just tell refugee stories, they are also human stories. The arts have the power to connect, and I hope this play will help all of us to be more strongly connected with one another,” Saleh concluded.
‘Red Soil of Kabul’
Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC)
H-01, Empire Damansara,
Jalan PJU 8/8, Damansara Perdana,
47820 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
- Aug 11-13 (Friday-Sunday) @ 8.30pm
- Aug 12 & 13 (Saturday & Sunday) @ 3pm
- RM150 (Golden Ticket)
For bookings, click here. Call 012-202 6384 if you have difficulty getting tickets.