KARACHI: Anyone who has seen Roman Polanski’s film version of Ariel Dorfman’s psychological tour de force ‘Death and the Maiden’ would realise how challenging it would be for actors to do justice to the three main characters in the story on celluloid, leave alone on stage where actors don’t have the luxury of retakes. Director Fawad Khan’s go at the drama in Napa’s in-house theatre on Wednesday night, adapted into Urdu as Raagni by Shoaib Hashmi, as part of the international theatre festival’s last major offering came quite close to doing justice to the emotional ebbs and flows of the plot.
‘Raagni’ tells the story of Saba (Bakhtawar Mazhar) who was once picked up by the military regime, physically abused and emotionally tormented by her subjugators. When the curtains go up, Saba is living in a remote area with her husband Salman (Zain Ahmed). Salman, who has just been appointed chairman of an inquiry commission to look into human rights violations during the dictatorial tenure, is out to run an errand when a tyre of his car gets flattened. A stranger, Dr Saulat (Nazrul Hasan) helps him reach back home.
Things heat up when Saulat pays a visit to Salman’s house late in the night. As the two men strike up a conversation, Saba hears Saulat’s voice. She asks her husband to make Saulat stay at their place overnight. It happens. The next thing that the viewers see is Saulat being tied to a chair by a pistol-wielding Saba.
Saba recognises Saulat’s voice as her tormentor and holds him hostage. She wants him to confess to what he did to her when she was taken captive. Salman doesn’t know what to do and is not completely in consonance with his wife. He initially thinks his wife is hallucinating but then seeing her resilience decides to interrogate Saulat. However, things are not clear whether she has the right man or is suffering from some kind of illusion. It brings into question whether what Saba remembers is a figment of her imagination.
It is commendable how Fawad Khan on Wednesday strove hard to impart an ambient touch to the play by using lights as part of the language of the play. Perhaps the effort suffered from insufficient rehearsals, which is why the timing of a couple of the fade-outs and the fade-ins left a little bit to be desired.
It is sad that the two main actors did not fully explore the multi-dimensionality of their roles and seemed conscious of the weight of their characters. They had moments where their characters could be fleshed out better, such as the one when Saba makes Salman talk about a girl he was seeing or herself describing that fateful day when she was ruthlessly treated. But kudos to Nazrul Hasan for understanding and doing his part to a T. Throughout the performance he made sure that his tone didn’t give away the guilty-or-innocent secret. In fact, there came a time when he sounded believable more than anyone else.
In the end, it has to be mentioned that the National Academy of Performing Arts should be congratulated for organising such a worthwhile event. Not only has it entertained theatre-goers in Karachi but has also proved to be an educating experience especially for its students. One hopes theatre lovers too have learnt a thing or two by now. They need not clap every time a scene ends. It disturbs actors’ concentration.