HYDERABAD, March 3: In an age when people of all backgrounds and classes are made to run blindly in a frenetic race for survival which leaves them with very little time for the luxury of entertainment, it is refreshing to find a sizable number of enthusiasts keenly watching an play.
It happened on Friday evening and it was Shaikh Ayaz’s play based on true story of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.
Shaikh Ayaz, a legendry Sindhi poet, who commands respect and popularity second only to Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, wrote the play in 60’s but it was never put on stage. It was staged for the first time on the poet’s 89th birth anniversary at Mumtaz Mirza Auditorium in Sindh Museum.
The play starts with a narration by a storyteller who describes political situation in India after the end of Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921-22, when there was a lull in the subcontinent with no major political activity except at legislatures.
It follows a scene showing a room of an underground factory of explosive devices. Portraits of Rani Jhansi, Tipu Sultan, Ramachandra Pandurang Tope, popularly known as Tatya Tope, a leader of the 1857 uprising, hang on walls and a table is lying in the middle of the room with some bombs on it.
Artistes acting as Bhagat Singh, Kishori Lal, Dr Parsad Gia, Chander Shekhar Azad, Suk Dev, and Raj Guru are sitting in the room.
A newspaper is lying on the table which carries news of the death of Lala Lajpat Rai.
They launch into a discussion on political situation, condition and mindset of common man and those who are doing politics in their name.
The discourse turns to things which bring ‘contentment’ to people, and they concur that real contentment lies in sacrificing for the motherland and its people and not in observance of religious rituals.
Chandar Shekhar argues that violent struggle was the only way to get rid of British Raj and its cronies. He says Ahansa (non-violence) as preached by Gandhi is a trick to get away from the real struggle.
Bhagat Sindh adds that the situation will not change till a Shiva Jee appears. Without struggle, the objective will not be achieved, he says.
Bhagat Singh says people are sceptic about launching an anti-imperialist struggle and they all appear to be waiting for a saviour.
Let’s speak about Tipu Sultan and vow to eliminate all exploitation and exploiters, he says. Raj Guru who had not taken part in the discussion thus far stands six candles and lights them. All characters stretch out their hands, keep them above the flames and swear they will lay down their lives for freedom.
At this moment, Shaikh Aayz’s poem “Jal Jal Mashal Jal” plays in the background and the narrator continues the story to the next scene.
Bahgat Singh and his comrades are arrested after having carried out bomb blasts in the central assembly building. They are produced before a special tribunal which sentences them to death.
Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukh Dev are in the condemned ward in central prison in Lahore waiting to be hanged.
Sukh Dev says everything will end today but the question is will my sacrifice yield any results. Bhagat Singh approaches him and says freedom is not a free lunch, it demands struggle and sacrifice. If someone renders sacrifice, it causes a chain reaction.
This narration depicts Bhagat Singh’s constant slogan Inqalaab Zindabad!
Finally, death squad arrives and takes the condemned prisoners to gallows. Here once again they recall joys of life but remind themselves that sacrifice for the motherland outdoes all other joys. The three comrades kiss the gallows and are hanged.
The scene becomes emotionally charged because of fascinating poetry and arrival of Bhagat Singh’s father and fiancé. A song Long Live Motherland echoes in the background.
The hall was filled to capacity and scores of people watched the play standing, indicating popularity of the subject as well as a thirst for quality stage plays.
Theatre is a dying art in Pakistan although groups like Ajoka are struggling to revive it. In Sindh, including its capital Karachi, no serious plays are presented. Music was arranged by a young composer, Zamin Ali.
Umair Bhutto, a new talent who has received training at the National Academy of Performing Arts, Karachi, and is much akin to Bhagat Singh, played the lead role.
The supporting cast included Rasheed Charan (Kishori Lal), Qamar Memon (Chandar Shekhar Azad), Nazar Roonjho (Sukh Dev), Altaf Soomro (Dr Parsad Gia), Younus Sanai (father of Bhagat Singh) Nelofar Sanam (fiancé of Bhagat Sindh).
Naz Sahto produced the play with the help of senior stage drama director Younus Sanai. The play, which compares differing philosophies of Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, was a rich tribute to not only Shaikh Ayaz but also to the freedom fighter who was hanged in March 1931.