KARACHI: Dramatic readings are an under-appreciated art form. Carrying forward the oral tradition of storytelling in this day and age does not excite the way other dramatic renderings, mainly through television, do. However, the story of ‘Raja Kay Do Seeng’ attracted a large and varied crowd at the T2F on Sunday and by the end every one present was ready for another go.
The Zambeel Dramatic Readings organised and presented the story written by Zara Mumtaz about a vain king, the Raja, who is punished by a sorceress for his very many unattractive personality traits with a set of horns (seeng). The story then loops in a few characters who simultaneously either wish to hide, or reveal the Raja’s new set of horns.
The storytelling, executed with finesse and mastery over the tone and register, was accompanied by live music. All songs are also written by Zara who uses simple narration to take the story forward, which not only delighted the older lot in the crowd, but also held the attention of the young. The story is said to have been inspired by a folktale and Zara uses fun and laughter to mock the evils that come with power and wealth.
Saife Hasan played the part of the obnoxious Raja with aplomb and his facial expressions, mannerisms and booming voice when portraying the Raja’s anger and frustration were met with gasps and shudders, audible enough in the back and a testament to his superior acting. The only other time when the children were genuinely taken aback was when Asma Mundrawala played the role of the sorceress. Her abrupt shrieks of malicious laughter at the Raja’s predicament were reminiscent of age-old horror stories and the props she used completed her transformation. One moment a narrator, the next the evil character keen on punishing the Raja, Asma played both roles with ease.
She also wonderfully narrated the story, alongside Mahvash Faruqi whose previous renditions of literary texts in English and Urdu have garnered much appreciation. However, Meesam Naqvi was the star of the reading with him playing multiple roles of the Wazir as well as Bubbun Hajjam, the Raja’s barber entrusted with the task to never reveal the truth behind the king’s horns.
Meesam’s performances were mesmerising and so natural that the characters could easily pass for having been created by himself. Each character was given a rare twist, and Meesam’s take of the way Bubbun was trying to escape from the Raja drew laughs from the crowd.
Though the evening was full of superior storytelling and left nothing to want, it was only with the presence of the live music that one realised how different mediums of expression can be put together to create an overwhelming piece of art. The music was composed, played and sung by Danish Faruqi and Zeerak Ahmed, and the songs were lighthearted and extremely catchy with many an adult humming along. The title song, ‘Raja Kay Do Seeng’, was definitely a crowd favourite.
A slight problem with such dramatic readings for children is that a younger audience does tend to lose interest much quicker. For the young, sitting in one place is a task unto itself and so a few dialogues were inaudible because of their shuffling around. However, the story held their interest and the constant breaking out into song was what kept the act from getting monotonous. As for the older crowd, it is safe to assume that they enjoyed the dramatic reading almost as much as the young for whom it was primarily aimed.
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014