Children’s festival begins at Napa

September 23, 2019

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A scene from the play Chacha Chhakkan.—Faysal Mujeeb
A scene from the play Chacha Chhakkan.—Faysal Mujeeb

KARACHI: It is thoughtful of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) to have come up with a children’s theatre festival, Bachpan Ke Rung, which kicked off on Saturday with the play Chacha Chhakkan, simply because in our society not enough attention is given to ‘fun’ programmes for kids. Yes, events are held to device ways to educate them in a better way, but entertainment is one area that leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Now back to the play. Chacha Chhakkan, as some of us know, is an Imtiaz Ali Taj creation inspired by Jerome K Jerome’s character, Uncle Podger. His idiosyncrasies define him, which is the case with almost every human being, in a peculiar way. He thinks he knows it all and can do or perform whatever is asked of him (and even when not asked of him). In the play, directed by Zarqa Naz, Farhan Alam plays the role of the Chacha. Both director and actor are Napa graduates.

Alam is a fine actor, and I believe, an under-appreciated one. Two factors set him apart from his peers: timing and his distinct way of saying lines that’s marked by clarity of thought.

On Saturday, the actor was on song. He seemed to be absorbing energy that a big number of children sitting in the hall were filled with. He, on a few occasions, even interacted with them to a loud, cheerful response.

In the beginning of the play, Chacha Chhakkan is seen sleeping on a takht to be disturbed by a knock on the door. His mere act of getting up, pulling up and removing the chador and admonishing his servant Bundu (Syed Arsalan) who is sleeping with a more carefree attitude elicits laughter from the young crowd. Primarily, though, the 45-minute production can be divided into two parts: one, when Chhakkan’s wife (Asiya Aalam) receives an invitation to a daawat and Chhakkan writes a letter of acceptance in reply; two, when he is trying to hang a picture of his naani on the wall. Both sequences are cute. In the former, the very attempt to find his pen, inkpot and writing pad by the rest of the cast — Bundu, Muda (Rahil Siddiqui), Bano (Harshika) and Chhuttan (Kaushik), not to mention the Chacha’s irritating behaviour towards them — had the children in stitches. In the latter, a similar effort to get nails, hammer and ladder with a dash of slapstick was the focus of the director’s attention. The kids enjoyed that too.

To be honest, structurally, Chacha Chhakkan isn’t a full-fledged dramatic presentation. But Naz on Saturday succeeded in helping the children have a good time, which is the purpose of the fest.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2019