KARACHI: In cricketing terms, it was a toe-crushing yorker. The National Academy of Performing Arts play ‘Stumped’ directed by Zain Ahmed at the academy’s theatre on Tuesday evening was an inspiring effort.
In one of playwright Tom Stoppard’s dramas a character draws an analogy between the cricket bat and writers. He says: “What we’re trying to do right now is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might travel.” ‘Stumped’, written by Imran Yusuf and translated into Urdu by Fawad Khan, has the potential to ‘travel’.
The setting is a hotel room in England where Chicu (Sunil Shankar), the captain of Kabristan’s national cricket team, has a bat in his hand and is practising as if playing a real match. In comes Sam (Hammad Khan), a young fast bowler. Seeing Chicu whimsically swishing the bat in the room Sam turns around. Chicu calls him back and an interesting dialogue between the two ensues.
Chicu is a seasoned player whereas Sam is a rookie speedster with loads of talent. The discussion reveals that the team has reached the final of the Cricket World Cup which is to be played the next day. The opposition: India. Sam is excited that he’s part of a squad that has reached the final. He is thrilled that the entire nation will be praying for the team and if they win they will do their nation proud. Chicu sneers at him and tells him that it’s not the cricketers’ job to keep the nation happy; rather it’s the duty of politicians or of those who are at the helm of political affairs.
The dialogue confuses the young Sam and when he doesn’t get it Chicu comes out and informs him that tomorrow’s match is fixed and by doing as Chicu tells him Sam can earn 200,000 pounds. Sam (who doesn’t drink and eats only kosher meat but is into girls) resists the idea saying he can’t betray his country. He also warns him about Fani (Rauf Afridi), the leading player of the team, that he won’t accept the offer either. Chicu remains unruffled and believes he is going to persuade Fani as well.
In the next scene Fani is seen with Chicu. He makes fun of Chicu being a spent force and fool. But Chicu has all of his bases covered. He brings up the name of Davos Intizar aka Maulana D. The very mention of Maulana D perturbs Fani as Chicu reminds him of his association with D in the past. Fani is trapped. Surprisingly, the next day Sam and Fani enter the hotel room celebrating their victory with a distraught Chicu following them. Kabristan has won the World Cup final against India. Disgruntled Chicu talks about the wrath of Bombay bookies and warns Fani and Sam of dire consequences, suggesting Maulana D will have them suffer.
Things take a sudden twist in the next scene as Chicu is seen cock-a-hoop about something. This baffles Sam. It turns out that even the Kabristan victory was fixed and Fani was in the loop about it. Sam, who was earlier celebrating his six-wicket haul and a brisk 25 runs off 10 balls during his stay at the crease, feels deflated. Chicu mocks Sam that he couldn’t have taken six wickets if the top four Indian batsmen, including their premier player Mangal, hadn’t thrown their wickets.
Davos Intizar or Maulana D (Bakhtawar Mazhar) enters the room and the audience now knows that it’s a woman that they’ve been hearing about all along. She acts smug about the whole affair and seems to know all the players inside-out. She even hints that the fixing was done at the top level and that the president of Kabristan knew about it. She then mentions the Kabristan team’s future tour of South Africa followed by a possible trip to India (for which political negotiations are on) and insinuates that both tours too will be fixed.
The whole situation leaves Sam in a quandary. When two drunk journalists (Hammad Siddique and Hammad Sartaj) come into the room, he discloses to them that the match was fixed and the coming matches against South Africa will be no different. The journalists don’t pay heed to him and tell him that he’s young and he should think about his future.
In the last scene of the play, Chicu and Fani address a press conference. Both look flustered. When media persons hurl questions at them it is revealed that Sam is dead.
Investigations are under way whether it was a suicide or murder. Chicu and Fani admit that they know Maulana D but don’t come out with the whole truth. As the lights fade to black, a young man in cricket whites with a ball in his hand walks past the audience and disappears.
‘Stumped’ is an incisive attempt at pointing out the glaring fault lines that exist in the local cricketing structure. The play’s marked feature was its acerbic humour (which makes way for serious exchange of dialogue in the latter half of the play) that laid bare the flaws that cricketers as humans inherently carry. Sunil Shankar was convincing as an almost over-the-hill cricketer who wants to make hay while the sun shines. Rauf Afridi as Fani, the two-faced individual who is not devoid of a conscience, was impressive. And Hammad Khan in the role of a gullible, not affluent, God-fearing fast bowler from a small town played his part to a tee.
Of course all of it had to do with insightful direction. The shots from cricket matches before the beginning of the scenes set the tone required for such a play. The lighting was good and was not unnecessarily dim to create pathos. The subtle symbolism, especially with the appearance of another young fast bowler at the end, worked well.
The script understandably had elements of colloquialism. It was nice that yesteryear cricketers, such as Abdul Hafiz Kardar, were touched on during discussions.
In the words of the late Jim Laker, it was a marvellous effort. The only thing that could be done is to have more than one set to break the visual monotony if the play is to travel to other parts of the country.