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‘Theatre can take place anywhere people are interested in it’

April 07, 2019

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BALANCING earthen lanterns, or chiragh, on their palms, members of a troupe perform a Sheedi dance at the festival.—Shakil Adil / White Star
BALANCING earthen lanterns, or chiragh, on their palms, members of a troupe perform a Sheedi dance at the festival.—Shakil Adil / White Star

KARACHI: The first Chiragh Festival organised by What If Productions in collaboration with the Arts Council kicked off with a colourful display of Sheedi dance in the open space, which once used to be semi-verdant lawns, at the council on Friday evening. Then the audience shifted to the auditorium where interesting programmes were lined up for them.

Two hosts, Mansoor and Bakhtawar, appeared on stage and after introductory remarks invited pop star and social activist Shehzad Roy on stage. Roy said he was delighted to be at the event and was glad to know that the purpose of the festival was to bring together the diverse group of people in Karachi through meaningful cultural activities. He mentioned his own effort with two government girls’ schools where art brought together students from various ethnic backgrounds.

President of the council Ahmed Shah spoke about his efforts to gather scholars, writers and poets on one platform.

The speeches were followed by a dance titled ‘Aqeedat’ by Mohsin Babar.

Then the stage was set up for a discussion on theatre, moderated by Asif Farrukhi, with theatre practitioner Khalid Ahmed and actress Faiza Hassan. Mr Ahmed, in response to the first question put to him by the moderator about things not looking that bright vis-à-vis the art form, regretted that the tradition of theatre had not taken root in Pakistani society. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, every evening throughout the year people have the choice to watch stage productions in one corner of the city or another. So there’s a solid tradition of the genre in Bengal. Similarly, in Maharashtra, India, every month families especially take out time for theatre.

When Mr Farrukhi asked Ms Hassan whether TV plays had lessened interest of the audience in theatre, she said it’s true. Still, theatre has its own charm. Experiencing live acting has a different thrill altogether.

On the efforts being made for popularising theatre, Mr Ahmed said it was addictive. So, people who are into theatre keep doing it no matter the circumstances. The addiction is in the fact that whatever happens between actors and audience happens then and there. The other thing is that theatre doesn’t need elaborate arrangements to take place. They say, to do theatre, you need three essential things — a performer, a viewer and a small piece of land to do the performance. This is the reason it takes place in villages, cities and anywhere where there are people interested in it. Anyone can get up and express himself/herself through the medium, Mr Ahmed argued.

He wondered why most of the plays written in Urdu come across as pieces to be read, not to be performed. Explaining the medium, he commented theatre was a form of storytelling where the story progressed through action and reaction, and the conflict between the two. This is the reason the West uses the word ‘acting’ for the performance on theatre because it is all about ‘to act’.

Responding to the question about training for the art, Ms Hassan said the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) was doing a good job. A single institution has produced so many artists. When you are acquiring training you not only learn the art but get to learn other things as well.

Mr Ahmed added theatre should be done on a bigger scale. Even in Karachi there are only a couple of venues for it. There is none in Nazimabad, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Lalukhet or Gulistan-i-Jauhar. Also, one of the reasons that plays haven’t been written in Urdu is that there is no connection between writers and theatre practitioners. Writers tend to do their job in a detached manner, moving away from the theatre. Whereas George Bernard Shaw was a writer and director; so was Shakespeare. They were part of the ‘excitement’ to create a play.

Mr Farrukhi said perhaps Urdu writers couldn’t attach themselves to performing because society did not give them enough time and recognition to read and write, leave alone to align themselves with the performing arts.

Giving suggestions as to what could be done to promote the art form, Mr Ahmed said it needed state patronage. It is extremely important to organise plays at schools and colleges.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2019