By Manju Sampat
“Without the act of the performer the audience could not believe. Without the belief of the audience the performance would not be complete. We laugh at the same moment. We are moved. We gasp or are shocked into silence. And at that moment through drama we discover this most profound truth: that what we thought was the most private, intimate division between us, the boundary of our own individual consciousness, is also without frontier”, says legendary theatre personality Simon McBurney. This was more than adequately proven last night by Jeff Goldberg’s intimate portrayal of David Coleman Headley, the enigmatic mastermind behind the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai.
Goldberg brought alive this dastardly personality by his electrifying performance, as layer by layer, he peeled away the “nine lies” that seemed to be the foundation of Headley’s life. “Lies are like a spiral and this is my chance to tell my truth”, he said. Some of these “truths” that spilled out, we the audience were familiar with, but others did ‘move’ us and make us ‘gasp’ and ‘shock us into silence’!
Written, directed, and enacted by Jeff Goldberg, this masterpiece of theatre, opens very dramatically with David Headley, dressed in orange jailbird clothes, in handcuffs, sitting on a chair inside an American federal prison. The stage is darkened but slowly the lights come on and we hear the conversations between the terrorists at Mumbai’s iconic Taj Hotel and the main organisers of this attack in Pakistan. Then Headley begins to speak, gently at first, as he leads us through the events in his life that led him to this stage, and gradually there is mounting anger and disbelief that he is imprisoned for the next thirty five years! Over the next 75 minutes, the audience is led into Headley’s life, from his troubled childhood to his complete makeover of becoming a religious ‘jihadi’. It is tough for one person to hold the audiences’ attention for so long but Goldberg had us spellbound throughout.
Like a harlequin Headley was split down the middle, even his eyes were two different colours, one blue and one brown. He had an American mother Cyril Headley and a Pakistani father, Saeed Gillani. True to his split personality, he spent his entire life “mirroring “ the various people he came in contact with at different times. Born in America, he was raised in Lahore till he was seventeen and even attended military college there. However, unable to stand her unhappy marriage, his mother abandoned him and returned to America. So when his father remarried, David returned to America to join his mother in Philadelphia and be with her at the bar she owned, Khyber Pass. At the Community college he attended, he met some “Paki guys” who got him into drugs and womanising too soon followed. “I was married to drugs and cheating on her with women “, he proclaimed. This drug addiction led him to return to Pakistan and through his good friend Rana from Military college, he was able to easily travel to the frontier provinces and access drug dealers in Pakistan. With his “gorra” looks he could smuggle these into the US as he had an American passport to boot! Now as a drug dealer, he was flush with money! The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) in America realised his worth and got him to work for them as an informant. They sent him to Pakistan to work for them, but here he came into close contact with the LET, and soon, he became a recruiter for the LET. His looks, and dual personality enabled him to exist in two societies, and as a double agent!
The Holy War had begun! He trained in military camp with the LET, and came in contact with Sajid Mir, Iqbal and Laqvi, the masterminds behind 26/11. He changed his name from Dawood Gillani to David Headley, and with his American passport, he easily got a visa to come to India. He came to Mumbai, five times between 2006 and 2008, and in fact even established an office here. He passed on all the information about likely targets to Sajid Mir and Iqbal. We all know too well what happened here on November 26th, 2008. What we don’t know is that both the British and American secret services had prior knowledge about this likely attack and we were not sufficiently warned!
We learn that Headley was also involved in the terror attack against the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, that published controversial cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005.
Goldberg has done immense research on David Headley’s life and says it took him two years to write this play. His direction of this play is brilliant, while the lights and music are really effective and work in sync with the scenes being enacted. Goldberg is the perfect choice to play Headley, as he even looks the part! Goldberg ‘s portrayal of Headley is intense, gripping and energetic. It will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Take a bow Mr. Goldberg!