ISLAMABAD, Oct 24: Dawar Mehmood’s dramatic interpretation of Anwar Maqsood’s political satire Sawa 14 August, playing to a packed auditorium at Pakistan National Council of Arts, is theatre at its best.
Anwar Maqsood conjures a tremulous Pakistani history with his vividly ingenious dialogues, patriotic speeches and subtle innuendos. He offers a decent variety of touching patriotism, comic passages, and intensely dramatic monologues with every detail of the play mirrored in the characters’ performance.
The drama of the narrative – the unending greed and ambition of the characters, the fierce divergence of vision between General Zia-ul-Haq and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and their rapid fall from glory – is fitting to the ingenious quality of this KopyKats Production.
Never before has any production explored the dynamics of Bhutto-Zia relationship and Dawar magnifies their conflict with the most comical yet invigorating approach.
The plot develops by depicting visions of a glorious past, tracing previous misconstrued steps and the present deplorable state of affairs, and formulates the play into a hodgepodge of material.
However, the themes are stitched together so well that the seams go unnoticed. Sometimes amusing and at others controversial, the play alternates between idealism and practicality.
The incapacity of Sawa 14 August to hold to a definite feeling reflects the constant shifting of roles, as the actors switch between participating in plots within plots and revealing their true faces.
The initial few minutes lay the foundation of what one has signed up for. Dawar Mehmood, producer, director and actor, shares the stage with a Christian sweeper who later reflects on how coarsely the minorities are treated in Pakistan.
Hence, the play establishes itself as a ‘Pro-Pakistan’ sequel to Paunay 14 August that had explored the pre-election scenario.
Fortunately, an ensemble of talented stage actors expertly brings life to the demanding complex characters.
Zahid Ahmed, dressed impeccably and symbolically in white, grounds the play with his portrayal of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. With a solid, authoritative voice, he proficiently conveys the idealism Jinnah encapsulated.
Having lost 18kg on a strict diet of carrot and hot water for this role, Zahid embodies Quaid with utmost grace.
“What’s difficult in playing the Quaid is the natural expectation that is involved. With a dramatised adaptation and change of attire, one is naturally apprehensive but the response I’ve received makes this my favourite role,” he told Dawn when approached backstage.
Similarly, Gohar Rasheed referred to his role as General Zia-ul-Haq as a ‘tricky’ one where he plays a “comical villain, more like Batman’s Joker.”
The love-hate relationship one builds towards the stage adaptation of Zia is instantaneous.
The general’s chemistry with the suave Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, portrayed by Wassam Waheed, showcases the overbearing yet profoundly insightful tension the two political figures may have shared in their time.
Gohar commands the stage and even while portraying a complex Zia, manages to stir the audiences into guffaws.
Wassam portrays Bhutto as a hero and visionary that he thinks he is. The underlying themes behind his gestures and dialogues create a significant contrast with Zia’s coarse and over-the-top speech.Adding to the one-act play is the core comic-relief – Yasir Hussain.
He plays two different roles - an influential Sindhi politician and a Pushto poet - within the span of 90 minutes, and has the audience under his humorous spell.
His stage presence, dialogue delivery and comic timings grant him to be a stage-star. Talal Jillani as ‘Punjab da Sher’ (Lion of Punjab) and Nazar Hussain as an MQM leader, along with Hareem Farooq, act as catalysts to drive the plot to its dramatic conclusion.
Sawa 14 August offers Islamabad a captivating night at the theatre.
The contemporary music score by Abbas Ali Khan during the speech-war is hauntingly soothing.
KopyKats production has done absolute justice to the 60s-70s era with a tinge of delusional realism of present day Pakistan.
Jinnah’s remorseful mention of his home being bombed and the destruction of Pakistan lead to an emotional yet fitting speech at the end.
The play is an emotional rollercoaster ride that left audience both entertained and intellectually stimulated. It is history told in a contemporary fashion with heroes and villains portrayed in the most human light.