Heer Project — a feminist tribute to folklore

July 20, 2019

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A SCENE from Heer Project staged at Napa.—Shakil Adil/White Star
A SCENE from Heer Project staged at Napa.—Shakil Adil/White Star

KARACHI: National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) enters the second week of Jashn Sahwan Ka — A Festival of Contemporary Theatre with Zain Ahmed’s Heer Project, that is one of the finest retellings of Waris Shah’s classic Heer Ranjha. The play, performed on Thursday evening, incorporates modern poetry, dance as well as live music to retell the tragic tale that was written in 1766. What makes it different from other contemporary versions of the play is its dependency on a feminist perspective, which changes the audience’s point of view, in a good way.

The experimental play revolves around a handful of girls who portray the classic character of Heer in their own way. Led by the Pinky Memsaab star Hajra Yamin and Napa regulars Shabana Hassan and Syeda Maha Ali, they all kept the audience on the edge of their seats with powerful dialogues and performances. Dressed in red and made to stand on a dimly lit stage with a black backdrop, they highlighted the misery of being a woman in a world dominated by men, moving many in the audience with their performance.

Whether it is remembering their first love, talking about their failed romance or discussing their husbands, their expressions were spot on and kept the audience engaged.

When it was time to perform a song, they either sang the lines in their own unique way or stood as mannequins when it was time for Sabiha Zia and Vajdaan Shah to show their dancing skills. What is important to know here is that Vajdaan Shah was portraying Ranjha, but besides dancing in tandem with Sabiha Zia’s Heer, he had no dialogue in the entire play. The play had some of the best original numbers composed by Nigel Bobby and penned by women poets (except the classic folk song ‘Kheryan De Naal’). The musicians and singers were present on stage and gave a live performance which raised the bar of the entire play immensely.

Zain Ahmed’s direction was spot on and he continues to impress as a director as well as a mentor. The way his team handled the lighting, the manner in which the actors took breaks and the unexpected climax were jobs well done. The total run time was less than 75 minutes which was ideal because the attention span of the audience is getting lesser with the passage of time. It was too less a time to show what a woman goes through in her life from adolescence to motherhood, but the way the cast and the crew made it possible was commendable.

Heer Project is being staged at Napa’s Zia Mohyeddin Auditorium till July 21.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2019