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Matters of morality

December 03, 2018

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A scene from the play.—White Star
A scene from the play.—White Star

KARACHI: An Urdu adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure directed by Zia Mohyeddin on Friday evening at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) is a must-watch for those who love theatre — and for those who like to know or study how unavoidable circumstances alter our views on the various aspects of the human condition.

Before giving out details of Jaza Aur Saza, the Urdu name for the play written by Khalid Ahmed, one is reminded of a Shake­spearean conference that took place in Karachi in the late 1990s. At that conference, one of the delegates read out a paper on the topic: Isabella’s Docility. The girl named Isabella is the central character in Measure for Measure. She is a religious woman (she’s about to become a nun) with strong moral values. The paper underlined her docility arguing that she gets embroiled in a ‘between the devil and the deep sea’ kind of a situation that allows the characters around her to use that docility to serve their purpose(s). This is one way of looking at Isabella. Just one.

Now to the story: Jaza Aur Saza sets the agenda for the play by introducing the character of the Duke of Vienna (Meesam Naqvi). His conversation with his colleagues reveals that he will soon leave the city. He asks Angelo (Fawad Khan) to look after things in his absence. But he is a worldly-wise man. By making others believe that he is away from town, he wants to see, in the guise of another citizen, how the affairs of the state, so to speak, are managed.

Not too long into the story, hullabaloo is created about a man named Claudio (Saad Zameer). He is accused of impregnating Julietta (Afra Khalid). Claudio is sentenced to death for the moral crime, and Angelo, who is an uncompromising moralist, doesn’t want to even give a second thought to the punishment.

When Claudio’s sister Isabella (Kaif Ghaznavi) gets to know about her brother through Lucio (Nazrul Hasan), she goes to Angelo to seek forgiveness for her sibling. Initially, Angelo acts like an unflinching jurist, but then, rather ironically, falls for Isabella’s beauty. He puts forward

the condition that he can forgive her brother if she agrees to sleep with him. This is where the play’s real conflict rears its head.

Jaza Aur Saza is a remarkable study of a society in which morality and compassion are pitted against each other. While the message embedded in the text is not that hard to understand, there are delicate points that are touched upon by Shakespeare, and Khalid Ahmed’s translation conveys that befittingly.

Zia Mohyeddin’s on-point direction doesn’t allow the crux of the matter to take a back seat throughout the performance. As a result, the cast of the play, which comprises the finest actors that Napa has produced over the years, does justice to their roles. So, the audience leaves the theatre both entertained and better educated.

The play will run until Dec 10.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2018

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