In an era where adaptations are the norm, it is very heartening to see young talent coming up with original scripts.
Like all genres of the performing arts, theatre is a medium through which human conditions and emotions are expressed. But unlike other art forms, the impact of theatre is immediate as the characters come to life in front of a live audience. This is why Oscar Wilde regarded it as the greatest of all art forms, calling it “the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
Apart from its immediacy, what sets theatre apart from other art forms is the manner in which it brings people together. As Marsha Norman very rightfully points out, “Theater is a communal event, like church. The playwright constructs a mass to be performed for a lot of people. She writes a prayer, which is really just the longings of one’s heart.”
It is a highly powerful instrument, sometimes bringing together various forms of art in an act of dramatic amalgamation: literature, music, dance and acting are tied together as pertinent political, sociological and psychological themes are explored, making theatre a necessary indicator of the creative progress of a nation.
In the subcontinent, theatre has seen many ups and down over the years. Agha Hassan Amanat Ali’s play ‘ Indrasabha’, which was performed in 1855 in the court of the last Nawab of Oudh, is said to be the beginning of Urdu theatre. It was a great success and some of its characters such as ‘ Sabz Pari’ and ‘Kala Deo’ remain a part of South Asian vocabulary even today.
After independence, Pakistan found its own unique theatre scene
with most performances focusing on the bloodshed and communal violence witnessed during the partition. This focus gradually shifted to a variety of subjects with playwrights exploring a wide range of themes.
Unfortunately, the theatre sector in Pakistan did not receive much support from the government. Instead, it was a victim of state censorship and strict regulations. There are at least three departments responsible for the screening and approval of plays before they can be staged. Such intensive regulation mechanism has invariably harmed the growth of theatre in the country. Moreover, conservative groups have long disapproved commercial theatre which, they claim, promotes obscenity through indecent dialogue and vulgar dances.
However, the theatre sector has witnessed a great improvement with playwrights like Anwar Maqsood writing some of the greatest plays ever staged in Pakistan. His trilogy of satirical plays, Sawa Chauda August, Pawnay Chauda August and the soon to be enacted Sarhay Chauda August, has been a tremendous success. Such theatre aims to bring about social change by reminding the people of their roots and what the Quaid-eAzam had envisioned for Pakistan.
In some ways, Anwar Maqsood’s plays are reminiscent of Ashfaq Ahmad’s plays which also highlighted similar issues and focused on the political concerns of Pakistanis born after partition. Those plays have been performed in the major cities of Pakistan and have received standing ovation. Pawnay Chauda August shattered all past records of popularity and building on its success, Anwar Maqsood and his team even embarked on a world tour to entertain a global audience.
These plays strongly resonate with the youth who are increasingly looking for some inspiration to drive Pakistan towards the vision of its founding fathers. Says Zarmeen Salim, a business graduate: “The second edition of the ‘Chauda August’ trilogy was a real eye opener for both the young and old alike, instilling in them a powerful sense of patriotism. It was political satire at its best.”
Although the Chauda August series was a huge success, it is not just politically inspired plays that gain appreciation. Tired of the rampant violence and bloodshed, the people of Pakistan are increasingly looking towards comedy theatre for some lighthearted humor. Reproduction of yesteryear’s famous dramas such as
Aangan Terha, and musicals such as Cinder Jutt have provided the much needed comic relief to people. Plays like these provide the audience an opportunity to unwind and have a good laugh. According to theatre aficionado Ayesha Waseem, “Theatre in Pakistan has come a long way. The creativity, ideas and talent that can be seen is absolutely brilliant. Aangan
Terha, for instance, was an excellent stage rendition of the famous TV show. Musicals like Cinder Jutt and Grease are also highly entertaining.”
The revival of theatre has been made possible mainly due to the efforts of young, talented people, including students. These youngsters have directed plays that explore unique themes and forms. Khamosh
Kalam, performed at the Karachi Arts Council a couple of years ago, is one such example. Directed and acted out by the students of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, this play used the pantomime technique to express its focal theme. The absence of dialogue is a challenge for any acting troupe but the impressive performances surpassed all expectations. In an era where adaptations are the norm, it is very heartening to see young talent coming up with original scripts.
Many schools and colleges have art societies that put up small productions in the educational institutions. Young people who are a part of such plays are highly talented and should have more platforms to showcase their talents. Unfortunately, there is not much support for such amateur efforts. However, they continue to thrive. Independent student bodies have also taken it upon themselves to promote small scale theatre. The LUMS Drama Fest, hosted last year by the Dramatics Society of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, was one such attempt. With more than 3,000 people in attendance, the festival featured troupes from some of the leading schools and colleges of the country, providing an amazing platform to emerging talent.
The most recent testament to the revival of theatre was the International Theatre Festival hosted by NAPA in March, featuring theatre groups from India, Nepal, Germany and England. The plays brought with them an international flavor and were noted for their superb execution and technical expertise. The festival may have come to a close but the activities in the world of theatre are thriving, with a new play staged after every few weeks. Surely, the future of this genre seems bright.