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The May-December conundrum

August 21, 2016

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KARACHI: An old man meets a young woman and the relationship that brews is enchantingly asymmetric. This has been the subject of quite a few stories because as a plausible premise it’s easy to conceive, but giving it the shape of a play by virtue of credible dialogue that vindicates its plausibility is no mean feat.

The two plays performed at T2F on Saturday evening, one written by the inimitable Arthur Miller and the other by a Pakistani playwright Bee Gul, handle the same topic with variable degrees of intensity.

The first one-act performance titled Elegy for a Lady tells the story of a man (Khalid Ahmad) who comes to a shop to buy a gift for his mistress who has not been keeping well. The saleswoman (Joshinder Chaggar) at the shop has a mature head on her young shoulders. The man doesn’t take long to develop an affinity with her and in the process starts telling her about the ailing girl. It becomes clear as he narrates his tale that there are a few insecurities that he’s living with, one of them is the yawning age gap that exists between him and that girl. Of course, her failing health makes the situation comes across bleaker than what the audience might have thought in the beginning of the two characters’ conversation. The saleswoman consoles him by suggesting what his girlfriend probably requires is to deal with things on her own terms.

The second play ‘Marnay Se Pehley Jannat’ delineates the character of an old man Noshad (Khalid Ahmad) who is suffering from a terrible disease. His sickness has turned him into a churlish person because of which he looks at things, mainly his family, with a jaundiced eye. In comes a maid Jannat Bibi (Bakhtawar Mazhar) and Noshad’s life moves on a different pace than before. Jannat is a garrulous young woman who speaks her mind. She is not afraid to ask Noshad some difficult questions and has the temerity to hold up a mirror to him.

Age and ailment are at the heart of the two plays. What makes their realisation poignant is note-perfect dialogue. And this is where the actors’ need to totally invest themselves in the characters. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen in Elegy for a Lady. Both Khalid Ahmad and Joshindar Chaggar waste sensitive lines by saying them as if they don’t mean them. Joshinder utters perhaps the most important line in the play “It sounds like you simply like to thank her” with such indifference that it almost defeats its purpose. Similarly, Khalid sounds so blasé when he tries to express a poetic sentiment, “When I’m with her, it all flows back with the touch of her skin. I feel like a Hindu recalling a former life.” That said, both performers, especially Joshinder, warm up to their roles in the latter half of the play.

In Marnay Se Pahlay Jannat, directed by Bee Gul, Bakhtawar Mazhar carries the load of the content on her shoulders. She does an impressive job (let’s ignore a few fumbles) as the maid who is forthright but at the same time is human enough to long for material gains. Her question to Noshad “Kia aap ko maut dikhti hai” (can you see death?) is the most significant moment in the story.

Khalid’s effort too in the second part of the programme is markedly improved, despite the fact that he has to practically stay in bed throughout the 40 odd minutes of the play.

One understands that the artists have limited space to move around because of the small venue, so the directors couldn’t do much in terms of movement.

The plays will also be performed today (Aug 21).

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2016