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“When we are safe we progress, when we aren’t we rob banks!” declares a disgusted Quddus whose bank is being robbed in the play Lakhon Mein Teen staged recently at the Karachi Arts Council. The play is a social satire on human tragedies backed with humour for comic relief. The story unfolds with flashbacks of the mentally disturbed suspects being questioned by a policeman who is a reflection of a callous, stone-hearted and semi-illiterate law enforcer.

The story begins with Jatin being interrogated about a bank robbery committed by him and his partners. He has a problem remembering and a doctor rushes to his rescue when the policeman (Faheem Azam) resorts to physical torture, reminding him that Jatin is, after all, mentally challenged. The cop responds by threatening the doctor!

Through flashbacks the audience learns that these disturbed characters planned a bank robbery masterminded by a schizophrenic named Hashim (Usman Mazhar), who after remaining jobless for years lost his mind. He planned the robbery to give money to his family. Hashim is aided by Jatin (S.M. Jameel), a Hindu who lost his senses when he saw his family being burnt alive as a child; Nazo (Kulsoom Aftab) suffers from multiple personality disorder due to abuse at a young age. Brilliantly acted by all three, their stories are a reflection of existing social problems and the callousness of society which looks the other way.

The heist seems to be going according to plan when the glitches start to show and the bank employees discover the robbers are not ‘normal’. Pandemonium ensues leading to funny moments and the robbers find themselves aided by the pensioner Baba Jee (Aadi Adeal Amjad) and the Makrani security guard Yar Baloch (Faizan Sheikh) with his loud, uncouth remarks and hilarious antics.

A play raises questions about our society and what we consider ‘normal’ behaviour

There is a parallel story unfolding behind the bank counter as well. Bank employee Izhar (Younus Khan) is interested in the relationship manager Soniya (Natalia Gul), the influential client Seth Imam (Waseem Dhamia) throws his weight around and gets on everyone’s nerves while the senior cashier Quddus (Bilal Alvi) keeps everyone’s morale on low gear. Enter Jatin, clad in a burqa, who promptly forgets his task, resulting in a caustic remark “she’s just like our political parties” from Quddus.

Tragedy strikes when the money is snatched from Hashim by another band of robbers and they escape, leaving the trio to be caught by the police.

The entertaining 85-minute Lakhon Mein Teen saw all the performers in top form, but the mumbling policeman, Baba Jee, Nazia, Jatin and Hashim outshone all the rest. The theme of the play about who is really unstable — the society or the mentally ill — provides ample food for thought. The dialogues had a lot of punch but the play dragged a bit in some scenes and there were some moments that irked, but the overall impact was positive. Lakhon Mein Teen was produced by Mohsin Ejaz and directed by Faheem Azam.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 29th, 2014