LAHORE: Commercial theatre being staged at arts councils and institutes such as the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (Pilac) has almost replaced socially meaningful theatre. It thrives on racy dialogues and suggestive dances, somehow undermining the role of public art institutes regarding presentation of quality plays and a healthy theatrical activity. It also leads to gender discrimination where women are exploited in the name of comedy. However, it’s presence is conspicuous, not only in private theatres but also at the art centres run by the government to such a level that it can’t be ignored completely. It has an audience too. The question whether such a theatre should be allowed in public institutes or not is something that requires a serious debate and answers. Veteran artistes, writers and art institutes have different opinion on it.

Commercial theatre is the outcome of the void created in the 1980s after a government’s crackdown on Lahore’s red-light area. The dearth of alternative theatre and lack of patronage by the government institutes to commercial theatre has made the situation worse.

Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi, director arts and culture section of the Lahore Arts Council (LAC), says commercial theatre is a major source of revenue generation. Alhamra Halls are used for multiple purposes where not only theatre but other events such as seminars and conferences are also held, he says and adds that the LAC is giving its halls on rent for commercial theatre while it is also producing its own theatre plays.

“We have recently produced a play on Sipahi Maqbool Hussain,” he says and adds the council has held a theatrical festival a couple of months ago and now it is again planning to hold a theatre festival in January.

Mr Zulfi considers commercial a different kind of a theatre which has a big audience.

A senior official of the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (Pilac), Asim Chauhdry, says earning through commercial theatre helps a lot in other developmental works of the institute.

“Pilac held many events for the revenue generation from commercial theatre and the funds generated through it were spent on the maintenance of the venue,” he informs Dawn.

Shahid Nadeem, the moving spirit behind Ajoka, condemns the government institutes for giving their venues on rent to hold commercial theatre just for revenue generation. He thinks the role of an arts council or a cultural institute is to promote young talent and trend setting productions, cultural innovation and experimentation.

Giving his views, playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed says arts councils usually stage commercial theatre for revenue generation. In his opinion, scripts should be invited by arts councils and cultural institutes like Pilac and veteran artistes and directors should be given a chance to stage quality plays. He says the audience that goes to see commercial theatre is not the audience of a play but that of dance.

“I think such a theatre should be closed down and socially meaningful theatre should be introduced,” the veteran playwright suggests.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018