"We cannot compromise on standards but we can all at least meet halfway to make it a learning experience for everybody,” Sania Saeed says about her experiences of collaborating with amateur theatre to further the cause.
But while she comes across as accommodating, Sania is still a perfectionist to the core. "Perfectionism is an attempt to do something to the best of your ability. We have to realise that while we put in our best efforts, sometimes things will not turn out be exactly the way we want them to be. Our work involves different energies coming from different places. There are so many people involved. But my responsibility as an actor and a person in charge is to give a hundred and ten per cent and then leave the rest to fate. Things usually do turn out okay then.” On a performance night during the recent KopyKats Productions' Mein Adakara Banun Gi featuring her in a titular role, Sania says she spotted a very serious-looking elderly gentleman in the front row. "While the rest of the crowd was laughing their heads off at some of the lines in the play, this gentleman merely smiled. After we received a standing ovation, he came up to me and told me that he had not enjoyed watching a play in years such as this one. His comments left me amazed (laughs wholeheartedly).”
On working with a theatre group having commercial interests
"Katha has always had a niche audience. For the recent performances, we had to come meet them half way because this new group had more commercial interests.
But nothing was changed in the play except for the actors.
Coming from a family of theatre enthusiasts, Sania Saeed believes that the process of evolution and learning is a constant, ongoing process
They too knew what they were getting into. There are rules that Katha will always abide by, as (Shahid) Shafaat and I will always adhere to certain standards which include staying true to the text.
We would improvise but only after rehearsals. We would not want to do something that would lead to ridicule. If it's deviating from the way I have perceived a character — even if it's funny — I wouldn't do it. You can change characters, improvise but only after rehearsing; not live and certainly not during a performance.
"Though the group (KopyKats) had issues, it realised that there are some things that we will just not compromise on. They understood very well that we will take charge of creativity because we know our work and we are good at it. Having said that, I believe that such collaborations or joint efforts of the seasoned with amateurs should take place so that experience is shared.
"I think it is a balance that all artists should pursue. We are all artists — whether we are painters, actors or writers — and it is about expression: saying new things or maybe saying the same things in a new way. And that is what we do. We try to present expressions in a different way and if the audience likes it then great! And if they don't like it well then that is what triggers a discussion. So it's a win-win situation. I don't see it as a loss either way. But when there are commercial concerns, it could seriously backfire."
"Play writing is not fundamentally the strongest point in Urdu Literature. Even in India, where there is a lot more theatre activity, a lot of adaptations are performed. We, on the other hand, haven't still decided whether it is socially acceptable or not. Theatre has such little reach that it will need time to grow."
At Katha, Sania says they have never pursued commercial hits, "Many times we broke even, but the larger interest was the fact that art needs to be promoted. I have been groomed by my audience and my trust in them has been constantly reinforced."
Evolution of theatre
"Present-day theatre has evolved in terms of diversity with Napa doing their kind of theatre, Sheema (Kirmani) doing hers, KopyKats Productions with their kind, and Katha also doing theatre occasionally.
Plus, there are so many others so now there is a wide choice open to the audience.
"The audience is also getting groomed in the process as they spend both time and money to reach a conclusion — whether they like it or not. They are not coming with pre-conceived notions and they are not walking out 10 minutes into a play. They clap or laugh at the wrong time and miss the dialogue, but then it is all a part of the learning process."
Lack of original plays
"We have done quite a few original plays at Katha. I don't fi nd a problem with adaptations and I fi nd the argument very futile. Writing theatre plays is very complicated work. It is a vicious circle: if it is written, there will be theatre or there will be no theatre.
Then many theatre writers are taken over by television.
There are things that are happening simultaneously and it will take time to sift them.
"Play writing is not fundamentally the strongest point in Urdu Literature. Even in India, where there is a lot more theatre activity, a lot of adaptations are performed.
We, on the other hand, haven't still decided whether we want to do theatre or not; we don't believe in theatre completely; whether it is socially acceptable or not, whether it is commercially viable or not.
So we need to wait and see.
Theatre has such little reach that it will need time to grow, though there is a lot of work being done."
Finally, Sania laments that theatre professionals are also very judgmental about other people's work, "I don't like that. I go to see everyone's performance. I believe that we should support our own cause by at least attending each others' performances and giving feedback, even if it is bad theatre. Eventually the larger interest should be about supporting theatre in Pakistan."
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 16th, 2014