A beloved folk story comes to life

Published January 11, 2015
A scene from Mirza Sahiban staged at PNCA in Islamabad. — Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry
A scene from Mirza Sahiban staged at PNCA in Islamabad. — Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Theatre’s performance of Mirza Sahiban at Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) on Saturday night swept the audience in the romance of a centuries’ old love story.

The musical brought to life Mirza Sahiban, one of Punjab’s most popular folk stories. Audience members found themselves transported to a time when Mughal rulers reigned over Punjab.

They swayed with the music, feasted on the colourful costumes, laughed with the humorous Punjabi one-liners and then wept at the tragic end.

A strong cast brought the story alive with emotive performances. Laila Malik gave an exquisite performance as Sahiban, dancing to Bhangra sequences and delivering moving Punjabi dialogues.

Fazal Jatt’s son, Sher Ashiq Jatt, played the role of Mirza equally well.

“This is one of the best performances I have seen in Islamabad,” said Waqas Qureshi, a member of the audience.

Other audience members shared the view and expressed hopes that more such plays will come to the PNCA in the future.

The production was an attempt to revive dramatic folkloric theatre where a ‘ravi’ or storyteller narrates and sings the script, a role that was performed by Fazal Ashiq Jatt in Saturday’s performance.

“This performance was an experiment to see how theatergoers respond to a unique and ancient style of theatre. And who better to request to perform than Fazal Ashiq Jatt and his team who have been doing this for nearly 100 years,” said PNCA Director Publications Waqar Hanif.

Fazal Ashiq Jatt established Pakistan Theatre in 1950.

Waqar Hanif said Fazal’s father Ashiq Jatt, was among the pioneers in folkloric theatre performing it as early as 1922.

Mr Hanif explained that folk performances were the hallmark of rural carnivals and celebrations like Chanan Pir and Data Sahib Melas which are rarely celebrated today.

“But be assured that there will be more such performances in the future,” he said. He lamented that this style of theatre has lost popularity, especially amongst the urban classes, who now prefer television soaps.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2015

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