Ajoka Theatre, known for staging socially critical performances, has added another feather in its cap. Its epic play, Dara, based on Mughal history and first premiered in Pakistan in 2010 will be staged by National Theatre, London. It has been adapted by British writer Tanya Ronder from Shahid Nadeem’s originally performed Urdu production.

Dara is the first Pakistani play chosen by the National Theatre to be staged under its umbrella with Ajoka being the first theatre group from Pakistan to achieve this breakthrough. International recognition of a theatre always has been a matter of great pride and honor.

The play is to open in London on Jan 20, 2015 for 36 shows until April 4. A major exhibition of the play where media would also be invited would be held on Jan 27.

Writer of the play Shahid Nadeem reacting to the news said: “It’s a big breakthrough.” He elaborated on how Ajoka was offered by the National Theatre to run its plays there, saying Anwar Akhtar from Samosa, an organisation in Britain comprising British-Asians, had met him two years ago and expressed interest in Ajoka and its productions. Later, Sir Nikolaus Hikorn, the director of Royal National Theatre, e-mailed Ajoka and invited them to stage Darain London, he said.

Nadeem said Darahad great relevance with the current time, as it was being staged internationally at a time when Pakistan’s negative image being conveyed to the world through extremists. Dara, he said, was about Islam, peace and the love Islam professed as a religion. Secondly, it had equal appeal for both Pakistani and Indian audiences since both owned Dara, an important figure from the Mughal history.

The London adaptation of the play was commissioned by the National Theatre and will be directed by Nadia Fall. The National Theatre team worked closely with Nadeem, Ajoka and British-Pakistani journalist Anwar Akhtar of the Samosa Media Project and RSA Pakistan Calling, who was a production consultant for both Ajoka and National Theatre. The play would be performed by professional British actors.

The National Theatre will also be holding a range of educational and dialogue events around the production with Ajoka.

Lahore is enjoying two major cultural festivals in performing arts, the All Pakistan Music Conference and the Youth Performing Arts Festival. With growing political, social and security tensions such events are like a breath of fresh air for art enthusiasts in particular and the public in general.

Several participants of both festivals were of the view that entertainment industry should support such events, but regretfully that has not happened even this time also. Validating their point, this correspondent did not see stage, TV or film artists attending the festivals or known singers attending the music conference except those who were invited as judges.

Youth needs encouragement and artists from all aspects of art should participate in such large-scale events, which are not too many now in comparison with the ever-increasing political theatre and negative propaganda projecting a soft image of Pakistan in the world.

Coke Studio 7’s episode five will air on Oct 19 featuring ‘Mujhe Baar Baar ’ by Abbas Ali Khan, ‘Mitti da Pehlwan’ by Jawad Ahmad, ‘Pehla Pyar’ by Jimmy Khan & ‘Khairiyan de Naal’ by Niazi Brothers. Meanwhile, in respect of Muharram, episode 6 will be aired on Nov 16.

Abbas Ali Khan returns to Season 7 with a rendition of Sufi kalam ‘Mujhe Baar Baar’, written by contemporary Sufi poet Hazrat Baba Gulzar Sabri and performed by Abbas in his album, ‘Tamam Alam Mast’. Jawad Ahmad’s ‘Mitti da Pehlwan’ mocks humanity’s obsessions with its own facile creations and reminds it of how life is transitory.

‘Pehla Pyar’ was the first song Jimmy Khan ever wrote in Urdu, and both the song’s genesis as well as its lyrics, speak of a youthful, naïve optimism.

Babar and Javed Niazi have preserved the evocative performing style created by their father, Tufail Niazi through ‘Khairiyan de Naal’ in this episode. Sung with a gusto that retains the sense of tragedy inherent to the song, the lyrics are from the perspective of Heer.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2014

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