Kids are the hardest audience to impress when it comes to theatre; what’s harder is making them enjoy a tale that has been told millions of times. Director Umair Rafiq, with his version of Ali Baba Chalees Chor, did exactly that — made kids laugh out loud as if it was a new story for them.
The play took place at the Zia Mohyeddin Hall at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) during their children’s theatre festival Bachpan Kay Rung. The story of Ali Baba and Forty Thieves was narrated in such a way that nobody was killed during the play because violence and children don’t go together. It was summed up in less than an hour keeping in mind the attention span of the target audience, i.e. children. Everyone in the hall loved the theatrics of the actors who presented the story as if it was something no one had heard or read before. Impressive, isn’t it?
The director of the play Umair Rafiq played the narrator and kept interrupting the story with his appearance or voice over, and it didn’t disturb anybody as it was synced well. There was a cowardly woodcutter Ali Baba (Muneeb Baig) who stumbled upon a secret cave that was home to a treasure left there by the 40 thieves. He was intelligent enough to steal some of the treasure so that nobody gets suspicious, however, when his brother (Aqeel Ahmed) tried to do the same, the thieves find out that the cave had been breached.
Will they be able to find out who stole their loot or will Ali Baba continue to live on stolen stuff for the rest of his life, that’s what the play is all about.
What struck the audience as the best thing about the play was the cave and how it opened up when the chief of thieves (and later other characters) said the magic words. The technical, as well as the sound department, must be commended for a job done professionally, even though it was a kids’ play. The way handful of thieves made up for 40 was impressive as well, as were the tweaks to the story, such as making Marjina Ali Baba’s wife (or lady of the house) instead of his slave.
Be it Muneeb Baig’s cowardly Ali Baba, Shabana Hassan’s intelligent Marjina or Hammad Khan’s Babloo Al Bubblegum, everyone had something to offer. Ali Baba listened to Marjina who was always active while his elder brother Qasim (Aqeel Ahmed) and his wife (Sehrish Iqbal) were shown to be rich and greedy people. And they nearly got what they deserved!
One must also mention Hammad Khan’s Babloo Al Bubblegum who played the head of the 40 thieves. The actor who recently was part of Hatim Tai at Arts Council continues to impress all with his villainous role. He danced around when he made his entry, kept delivering dialogues in English and made up Arabic, was suspicious of everyone and thought of himself as the most intelligent person on the stage, which he wasn’t. Marjina was, who outsmarted all, be it her neighbours, the thieves or their chief, in a different modern way!
And like all good plays, Ali Baba Chalees Chor had a minor character that kids loved the most — Chutu (Ahsan Ali). He was the right-hand man of the chief but his ‘Soary’ was loved by all. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that every time he was sorry, everyone laughed as if they had heard it for the first time.
On the whole, it was a wonderful play for kids and it would be great if the shows continue it in the coming days. All three public shows were houseful over the weekend and many missed a chance to be entertained by one of the most-loved tales from the Arabian Nights!
Published in Dawn, Young World, October 5th, 2019