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Actors in cat costume perform in Punja Shikanja at the PNCA on Thursday. — White Star
Actors in cat costume perform in Punja Shikanja at the PNCA on Thursday. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: A play portraying authoritarianism, hypocrisy, fragmentation and contradictions, and the stereotypes in our society hit the Pakistan National Council of the Arts’ (PNCA) stage on Thursday.

A media premiere of the play, titledPunja Shikanja, was held at the PNCA auditorium. The play is co-written by acclaimed artist Jamal Shah and Ibrahim Gogi. Mr Shah also directed the play with Asif Shah and Akash Bukhari as the assistant directors.

Punja Shikanjais a subtle, satirical comment on society, class contradictions, the exploitation of religious sentiment and broken dreams.

Set in the late ‘80s, the play follows a king and his stooges, a labourer, Meero, and his pet animals – a cat and five kittens, a critical rooster, a philosopher dog and more.

The plot of the play centres on a joke and its bizarre consequences, as well as the lust for power.

Some 60 actors, mostly from Rawalpindi – although one actor is from Lahore and another is Chinese - were cast in the play.

The story begins with the birth of the kittens, which start chanting ‘Long Live the King’ as soon as they are born. News of the kittens spreads like wildfire, and everybody claims ownership of the kittens, but they are confiscated by the king who is advised to show the kittens to the world.

The king’s men organise a grand event attended by leaders and diplomats to display the kittens. But when the kittens see the king, they chant ‘Down with the King’, embarrassing him. The king orders an investigation into the incident, and his men torture the kittens’ owner, the labourer, to uncover the plot.

It finally emerges that the kittens had opened their eyes on the fifth day, and the revelation turns into a rebellion against the king.

The play concluded with a song titledHum Jeeteinge, a parody of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ famous poem Hum Dekhenge, and a dance performance that was a satire on the governance system and rulers.

Applause rang through the jam-packed auditorium – audience members were even sitting on the stairs – after the play ended.

Ali Saleem and other actors perform in Punja Shikanja at the PNCA on Thursday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Ali Saleem and other actors perform in Punja Shikanja at the PNCA on Thursday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

Mr Shah, who also plays the king, Badshah Salamat, in the play, toldDawn: “I had conceived the idea in the early ‘90s, but it took almost 25 years to materialise it.”

The play is a subtle comment on society. It is hilarious and entertaining, interspersed with music and dances and featuring dramatic sets and innovative costumes.

In response to a question, Mr Shah said the play is in the tradition of German playwright and writer Bertolt Brecht to highlight social and political issues and raise questions about the socio-political system in people’s minds and highlight contradictions and hypocrisy and the lust for power and wealth of the elite.

It took six months to complete the project, he said. He added that there is space for serious theatre in Pakistan, as it is an effective platform to educate people and highlight social and political issues.

Television and theatre artist Ali Saleem, who played the Wazir Khanum, or prime minister, said the play is a political comedy portraying a dictatorial regime.

“Since Islamabad is my hometown, I am thoroughly enjoying not only the environment but the energy of the team members as well,” he said.

Wang Shan, who plays the role of a Chinese doll in the play, said that it was a great experience working with Pakistani artists, who are spontaneous and dynamic.

Punja Shikanja will run until Aug 20 with two shows a day.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2018