What If Productions, in collaboration with Arts Council Karachi, organized a three-day performing arts festival, called ‘Karachi Charagh Festival’ from Friday, 5th April to Sunday, 7th April. The festival featured film screenings of young emerging directors, panel discussions, classical dance performances, dramatic readings, and was attended by celebrities and prominent media personnel.
The discussion on Friday, 5th April, titled “Theatre Aur Pakistan,” with Khalid Ahmad and Faiza Hassan, was moderated by Asif Farrukhi. Khalid Ahmad, a veteran director and actor who teaches theatre at National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), is no stranger to television either. He gave insights into what makes a story adaptable for stage, saying that “theatre is a form of storytelling, where the story progresses through action and reaction, and the conflict between the two.” He claimed this was the reason why the West uses the word ‘acting’ for the performance in theatre, because it is all about ‘the act.’
Speaking about the quality of Urdu plays performed in recent years, Khalid Ahmad said that there has been an increasing disconnect between the writer and the stage. The writer often works in isolation, while his work is directed and performed by strangers. Thus, how can the writer feel inspired to create magic on stage, if he is at a distance from the action? The timing, length, and flow of dialogues between two characters for example, can only be perfected once the writer has significant exposure to theatre. As an example, he mentioned that Bernard Shaw was a writer and director, as was Shakespeare.
Faiza Hassan, who is best known for her role in “Burns Road Ki Neelofer,” agreed with Farrukhi’s opinion that going out to the theatre requires too much effort, and people nowadays are able to satisfy their craving for a good story through TV dramas. She felt, however, that live performances had their own charm and people’s interest in theatre can be renewed through modern adaptations of classical stories.
As a final comment on the discussion, Khalid Ahmad said that people who venture into theatre become addicted to it. For theatre to take place there is no need for an elaborate arrangement. All you need is three things – a performer, a viewer, and a piece of land. This was best depicted in the short play that followed the discussion, titled “Badshahat Ka Khatma.” Written by Saadat Hassan Manto, the play was dramatized by Bee Gul and directed by Khalid Ahmad.
The first scene of the play showed a man sleeping on an office desk, awakened only by the sound of the telephone bell. One’s attention was immediately drawn to his ruffled hair, unkempt beard and oversized shirt. At first glance, there wasn’t much to like about Manmohan, as played by actor Nazar-ul-Hasan. However, as the story progressed, we found out more about his character, mostly through his romantic conversations with an anonymous female caller. Manmohan has found temporary residence in his friend’s office, which he considers a promotion, as he was previously sleeping on the footpaths of Bombay. He spends his day flipping through an incomplete novel, which has its last few pages eaten by termites. His uneventful routine is shaken when he starts to regularly talk on the phone with an unknown woman. The set for the play was quite simple. While the left side of the stage had the office set up, consisting of two chairs, one office desk and a table, the right side had a chair where the anonymous woman was constantly seated, along with a table and a phone placed next to her. The props did not shift between scenes while the lights were simply turned on and off to show the passage of time.
The anonymous woman was played by Kaif Ghaznavi, a prominent face of television, and a trained classical singer. At times, she even sang to Manmohan and the audience seemed to really enjoy this. The two characters, despite of being a few steps away from each other on stage, were separated by a fictional distance and never interacted with each other directly. This gave the audience an edge, since even as Manmohan tried to visualize a face for the voice he’d grown to love, the audience already knew what she looked like. As his infatuation grew, Manmohan got agitated when the woman didn’t call, and even began hallucinating when he was alone. Nazar-ul-Hasan’s acting was particularly striking when, at one point, he began coughing and nearly collapsed on stage. In another scene, he stepped off stage and advanced into the seating area of the theatre, as if to converse with a bangles seller. He convincingly spoke with an imaginary bangles seller (from within the audience), without breaking character, and the director must be lauded for testing an interesting breakage of the fourth wall. When Manmohan told the woman that he must vacate the office soon, she promised to give him her number on his last day. With this promise, the audience was left to wonder: Would these lovers ever unite, or would Manmohan’s love story remain incomplete just like his termite-ridden novel. (Thanks – youlinmagazine.com)