While seated on floor cushions in the courtyard of the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture (IVS), most in the audience were no doubt admiring the facade of the Nusserwanji Building (symbolic of Karachi’s cultural heritage) when the lights went off. A voice then invited those present to take a peek at Punerjehan — the dead city, a musical pantomime presented by Laaltain, the performing arts society of the IVS.
As the proverbial curtains flung open, the citizens of Punerjehan could be seen waking up to a dull morning — they prepare meals without relishing the taste, get ready for work without looking forward to a fulfilling day, mothers send their children to school ensuring that they follow rigid norms, the artists’ brushes have lost all colour and the musicians’ instruments have lost their lilting melodies. The children play in the streets and the flower girls dances but their motions are robotic, seemingly forced with expressionless faces. In short, the city may give the impression of being alive, it is anything but.
The youngest citizen of Punerjehan (eight-year-old Amman Manzar) is the first to attempt to change such drudgery through his music box, but to no avail. Then the protagonist, a nymph, enters the scene. She sees through all the darkness, senses the depth of gloom and sets down to bring about a much-needed change. Dressed in a symbolic, vibrant outfit, she represents enthusiastic energy and through her vigorous dance moves starts to bring the disenchanted folk back to joyous life.
But the Mayor of Punerjehan (Salman Qaiser) resists the change as it goes against everything his forefathers had taught him. However, the power of music is strong and he eventually breaks all bonds and grants everyone the freedom of participation and willful expression. The result: fun and laughter return to the children’s antics, the artists’ brushes regain lost colour, musicians recall long-forgotten melodies and the entire city resonates with the sound of music and throbs with vigorous dance.
Enters Frags (Zain Hashmi), a young musician, who now has the liberty to fall in love and, with his enchanting compositions, wins the heart of the beautiful Fragaria (Marium Paracha). The lovers however, belong to different faiths and their relationship is not accepted by society. They are forcibly separated by a ploy acted out by two evil cronies (Maha Minhaj, Hamza Khan) in a desperate attempt to prevent the free flow of cheer throughout the city. But despite the odds, Frags and Fragaria manage to break the shackles of an orthodox system, overcome differences of cast and creed and follow their hearts.
Rejuvenated, Punerjehanians both young and old, men and women, along with the nymph dance and laugh as their city undergoes a miraculous transformation. Finally, the people shower rose petals and confetti from their windows as the transformation completes.
The working management behind Punerjehan — the dead city was entirely formed of IVS students. For many among them it was their first time on stage and it was quite evident that everyone from actors, makeup artists, costume designers and choreographers had put in a lot of hard work. The musical score with all its pathos and passion was the creation of the musical genius of the young Usman Riaz, and taken from his album Circus in the Sky. The script and direction was by Zehra Nawab and Heba Hashmi, respectively (the latter also played the nymph). Marium Ali headed production and the credit for the success of the play goes to Syed Arsal, the founder of Laaltain, who spent countless hours honing and guiding the young talent. The play also celebrated Laltain’s second anniversary.
Talking to Images on Sunday, Zehra Nawab gave insight into the name Punerjehan which means “a place of revival or rebirth.” I can only wish that the nymph of Punerjehan also makes a pit stop in Karachi to bless this suffering city with her magical touch, casting away the darkness of fear and the spectre of political violence, and bringing it back to vibrant life much like Punerjehan — the once-dead city now alive and so full of life.