KARACHI: When Prince Hamlet gets a group of actors to stage a play in front of the king, his uncle Claudius, he claims that the purpose of putting up the drama was to ‘catch the conscience of the king’. Playwrights have often used the play-within-a-play technique to achieve different goals. Luigi Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ also falls in that category, for here too the ‘conscience’ of a few characters is to be pricked, albeit in an absurd manner.
The National Academy of Performing Arts’ Urdu adaptation of Pirandello’s masterpiece ‘Chhe Kirdar Aik Musannif Ki Talash Mein’ directed by Fawad Khan on Wednesday evening was a reasonable attempt at capturing the spirit with which the Nobel laureate had penned the play.
Here goes the story. A theatre group is about to stage a play titled ‘Mann Tu Shudi’. Rehearsals are on and the director (Hammad Sartaj) is immersed in it. In come a half a dozen unknown people. It makes the director hit the ceiling. He asks them who they are. The oldest, the father (Rahat Kazmi) says they are six characters looking for a writer to complete their story. The director takes them for a bunch of loony bins but as they speak to each other he starts taking interest in their tale.
The father and the mother (Mozina Malik) are no more together. They had a child. After the separation, the mother married another man. The stepdaughter (Mehr Jafri) accuses, as the tale unfolds, that the father tried to take advantage of her. The father says he didn’t know that she was his stepdaughter, which she refuses to buy. At this point, the director decides to enact their story. The rest is for theatre lovers to watch and know.
It has to be said that the second half of the Chhe Kirdar, after the 10-minute break, had all that which the first didn’t. It was extremely engaging, the actors didn’t overlap their lines and it intelligently oscillated between imagination and imagination. Yes, it would be futile to find elements of realism in Pirandello’s effort, even if there were. And that’s exactly where the drama gets its force from. The audience doesn’t care if the characters’ story is a made-up one. They believe in what’s happening in front of them and at the same time realise that they’re mere characters.The former half of the play suffered from a strange kind of cacophony which may have been the result of the first-show nervousness. It made Chhe Kirdar sound like melodrama. When the director asks the father about the script of his proposed play, he replies it’s within him (hamare andar hai). It elicited laughter from the fellow actors even before Rahat Kazmi finished his line.
The arrival of the six characters happened a bit soon. It would have made a world of a difference if the director and his team carried on with what they were doing for at least a couple of more minutes. It might’ve made the characters’ intrusion more interesting. Just a thought, no critique. But the latter half of Chhe Kirdar more than compensated for the initial goof-ups.
Mozina Malik was superb as the mother. She was perhaps the only actor who used her voice beautifully. Unlike Mehr Jafri, she didn’t smother her words and spoke them as clearly as she could. Not that Mehr did a bad job. It is evident that she’s worked hard for her role and there were moments when she was breathtaking. The problem is that she comes across as a tad posh for the part. It’s not her fault that she wasn’t told that the sound of the letter ‘re’ in Urdu (r in English) is that of a rhotic consonant, not of a vowel.
Rahat Kazmi was good. He needs to look after himself because when his son (Meesam Naqvi) pushes him in the climatic scene he takes a rather nasty fall.
It was smart on the part of director Fawad Khan (or whoever came up with the idea) to use names of members of the Napa team in the dialogic exchange to give the project a touch of contemporariness. The lighting was also impressive because it worked well with the inherent symbolism and sequential references of the play.
Chhe Kirdar will run until Feb 9 from Thursday to Sunday in Napa’s in-house theatre.