Dawar Mehmood fell in love with Anwar Maqsood’s shows as an adolescent and now, with 16 years of directorial experience, his company KopyKats Production has performed plays scripted Mr Maqsood in theatres all over Pakistan.
Dawn sat down with Mr Mehmood to talk about his work during the run of his new play Naach Na Jaane in Islamabad.
Q. Has theatre reformed since you entered the profession?
A. It has only reformed for me because my shows are a total sell-out. If you do not have a house or an auditorium-like space to practice and rehearse for days and months, you simply cannot give your best performance. If there is no practice, there is no performance and eventually it boils down to no audience, so theatre in Islamabad is not financially viable.In Karachi city, the Sindh government supports this art, the excise department cooperates with organisers. The Karachi Arts Council backs theatre and there is a much bigger audience in Karachi to buy tickets to watch good quality theatre plays.
Q. Why is theatre successful in Lahore?
A. Lahore’s audience is in love with commercial theatre and they [have been] fixated on it for the last 40 years. It’s a big market. There is no censorship in theatre plays in terms of content; you can do mujras, take jibes that are below the belt, do whatever you want during the show – there is no limit.
Secondly, the red light area has been shut down in Lahore so that segment of the audience has also moved to the theatre for entertainment, along with the performers.
Q. How much do you try to bring in new talent in your play?
A. Every single time. I did a play, Siachen, with 23 actors and all but one were performing on stage for the first time. Also, the fact is that I cannot afford 12 actors of Yasir Hussain’s calibre, it would cost me an arm and a leg. I simply can’t... only if I price my ticket at Rs25,000 per head.
Having said that, the theatre audience has also matured over time and has become demanding, if I may say. There were times when we used to give an old lady’s character to a 25-year-old actor after a makeover, or gave a C-list actor a cameo. To be honest, I have played the role of an uncle many times when we could not find one, but not anymore. Now we try to find someone close to the character’s age for the role as the audience demands serious actors.
Q. Is it a good step to move from theatre to television?
A. Television is big exposure. If I have done 200 plays totalling an audience of say, five million, the exposure the same theatre actor performing in my play will get from a television show for 12 to 15 minute appearance will be in the millions. So there is no comparison when it comes to eyeballs.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2019