Liv­ing Art

In an era where adap­ta­tions are the norm, it is very heart­en­ing to see young talent com­ing up with orig­i­nal scripts.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Fa­tima Si­raj

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.

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