Muttahir Ahmed Khan
Following its traditions, National Academy of Performing Artists (NAPA) successfully hosted NAPA International Theatre Festival 2014, adding colors to the city’s ambiance and socio-cultural horizon. The artistic gala that kicked off on 4th March kept the whole city’s aura artistic and literary for nearly three weeks and concluded on 27th March with an enthusiastic, vibrant and artistic ceremony.
Besides NAPA’s own theatre groups, Ajoka theatre from Lahore and other teams from Karachi, theatre crews from Nepal, Germany, England and India, including Bollywood legend Naseerudin Shah landed in the city to demonstrate their admirable performance and appreciable talent through impressive scripts, befitting set designing, perfect direction, heart touching poetry of body and memorable acting. Apart from 12 artistic plays including storytelling, dramatic readings and dance movements on week days, a children-play “Ali Baba Chaalees Chor” and special storytelling series was presented for the kids on weekends. It was thus of course a family festival.
The festival decidedly offered a marvelous spree of well-scripted, skillfully directed and artistically presented plays and amongst all these, India’s motley theatre (run by legendary actor Naseeruddin Shah) and Lahore’s Ajoka Theaters (run by Madeeha Gouher and Shahid Nadeem) were highly admired, appreciated and discussed. During the performances of both these groups, the art-lovers thronged the NAPA auditorium to enjoy the class of work.
Motley theatres adopted the way of storytelling to drift the audience away from the auditorium and to get them immersed into the times and settings of Ismat Chughtai’s stories. Naseerudin Shah, his wife and a well-known face, Ratna Pathak and his daughter Heeba Shah related three short stories, Chui Mui, Mughal Bacha and Ghar Waali in a performing manner using effective intonation patterns, befitting gestures and body movements. Naseeruddin Shah, being the director of the overall show, had the longest part and it goes without saying that he kept the audience engaged till the moment he left the stage. Ajoka theatre’s crew members, mostly school going teenagers proved that art is not necessarily learnt through formal training or academic studies but is developed internally in your mind, heart and soul. They provided performing arts students of Karachi a great opportunity to learn from them.
The first Punjabi play by Ajoka Theatres Lahore in connection to the festival was “Mera Rang Day Basanti Chola” that is, as the title leads, the story of legendary freedom fighter and comrade Bhagat Singh. The play was Ajoka’s tribute to this great son of the Punjab. The play laid bare some hitherto less-known historical facts relating to Bhagat Singh’s ideology, his trial and its mysterious-cum-mystic links to the case of Nawab Ahmad Khan Kasuri and Z.A. Bhutto. The second consecutive artistic venture of the great team of Lahori’s in connection to NAPA International Theatre Festival that made the audience spell-bound was “Lo Phir Basant Ayee”. Like their previous play, this too was a marvelous presentation highly appreciated by the audience. The play was mainly in Punjabi with occasional amalgamation of Urdu. Both the artistic ventures were decidedly reflective of sublime art with regard to script, plot, characterization, acting and music.
NAPA’s Napa Repertory Theatre (NRT) presented four plays; the opening play of the festival was the classic masterpiece “Oedipus Rex”. The graduating class presented this famous Greek play created by Sophocles in Urdu in a contemporary setting without compromising any of its original dramatic content under the direction of Zain Ahmed. The second one “Blah and Blah” was nicely directed by Sunil Shankar and performed by Sunil Shankar himself along with the well-known choreographer Joshinder Chaggar. It was a dance drama, mostly depending on body movements that spin around the intimate human emotions, feelings, responses and relationships. “Kuttay” was the third venture in this series with a political theme and it was directed by Meesam Naqvi. The story revolves around the struggle of a liberating army that wishes to subjugate the people it purports to liberate. The fourth one “Raagni”, an adaptation of Dorfman’s play “Death and the Maiden” served as the concluding event of the festival. It was directed by Fawad Khan and written by Shoaib Hashmi. It was about the limitations of human beings and their heavy socio-political responsibilities.
The Saltlake Mohnitharan group from India presented the play “Raddi Bazzar” which was a set of three plays namely “Baaki Ithihas”, “Paglaa Ghoda” and “Evam Indrajit”. This triangle of themes, directed by Santanu Bose and penned down by Badal Sircar, touched the delicate fabric of human existence and the feeling, sentiments and emotions associated with them.
“Princes & the Garden” was presented by Nepal’s Theatre Village. The play was an adaptation of Ravindranath Tagore’s famous play “Malini” that revolves around the strict monarchist system and the breathing space that can be provided by the philosophy of Buddhism. It sheds light on human emotions like fantasy, love, hatred etc. it also questions the dilemma and complexity of the contemporary life of the common man.
The London-based theatre group, Fuel Theatre presented “Black T-shirt Collection” in story-telling mode, inspiring the audience with touchy scenes’ imaginations. The story spins around the two foster brothers building a global T-shirt brand. On their journey from a market in Nigeria to a sweatshop in China, Mathew and Mohammad discover the consequences of success. It was written and performed by Inua Ellams who is a poet and graphic artist. His debut play, The 14th Tale won Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009.
Germany’s Brigel Gjoka group presented “Eksod” that was successfully and harmoniously supported by music and dance performance. Music was composed by Nicola Guzzaloca while dancers were Mattia Gandini and Brigel Gjoka. The play was inspired by the Albanian movie “Rrethi I Kujtese” which reflected submission to the regime and its strong impact on the society. Without entering into the narrative, one just interrogates his own self during the process to explore the possibility of losing his memory – not just losing it but having it erased or removed by force.
Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Niswan presented an impressive play “Birjees Qadar Ka Kunba” directed by Sheema Kirmani. It was adopted from Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba” which is an uncanny but faithful portrayal of the lives of a vast majority of unmarried girls living under the yoke of brutally repressive feudal male values in a world dominated by patriarchal system.
In special entertainment sessions for kids over the weekends, “Ali Baba Chalees Chor” was performed. It was based upon the traditional famous story for children and was scripted by Professor Shoaib Hashmi and directed by NAPA’s faculty member Uzma Sabeen. Besides, Zambeel Dramatic Readings, Dastango Darmatic Readings, Qissa Farosh Dramatic Readings and Kahani Walay (stories for children) presented their marvelous creative work in their respective modes of presentation.
The writer is a Pakistan-based educationist, writer, journalist, analyst and a psychotherapist. He can be reached at Muttahir_khan@hotmail.com