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An encounter well staged

July 12, 2012


Anwar Maqsood loves leaving it half said – for maximum possible effect on his audience. Whether it is Studio Dhai or whether he is still content with Silver Jubilee when many others would be inclined to celebrate their ‘golden’, the very name is a clue to a creative mind busy in a bit of witty innovation that has become a trademark of Anwar Sahib’s work for television. For stage, he has recently come up with his first play, ‘Pawnay 14 August’ (pronounced as ‘Agast’ in Urdu) – a title which again creates suspense on its own.

It is a venture of the KopyKats Productions, directed by 23-year-old Dawar Mahmood. Before it debuted at Alhamra in Lahore on July 5, it played to full houses in Karachi in March this year. The play has been equally well received in Lahore, which had been long craving drama that maintains an honourable distance from the slapstick that is offered at the city’s various theatres yet stays away from the dull alternative fair put up in the name of clean family entertainment.

‘Pawnay 14 August’ will soon be touring various cities of Punjab and will also be staged in Islamabad before it returns to Karachi for a second run.

To begin with, the technique has been applied over and over. Many fiction writers – as well as journalists -- have in the past used a similar mode to engage the people. Imaginary correspondence with, for example, the Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal has been frequently resorted to as an effective way to convey the message. Ghalib and the Anarkali-Saleem pair are our favourite characters from history who are routinely resurrected and sent on visits to Pakistan to entertain as well as provide us with a critique of the times that we live in.

Anwar Maqsood brings together the Quaid, Iqbal and Maulana Shaukat Ali – and as a prelude to the unfolding series of metaphors and symbols of the never-ending transition, he collects them at an airport. They are stuck at Karachi airport with ‘chance’ tickets in their pockets, waiting to take a flight to the capital Islamabad to mark the 14th August.

As the three stalwarts wait, they come across Pakistanis from various fields, sharing their views of today’s Pakistan. These Pakistanis include the standard politician and the ever-suspect bureaucrat who are always susceptible to a few raps on their knuckles from the founding fathers. But then, the writer throws a colonel and an air hostess into the mix and laces the cast with the inclusion of a film heroine, a star-struck girl, not to forget an innocent child whose wellbeing we have felt responsible for in our spare, weaker moments.

In less capable hands, the team could have ended up delivering a moral lesson to the audience who pay a not so small an amount to get in. The meaningfulness is not compromised, only in the hands of Anwar Maqsood and young director Dawar Mahmood, the play is carried forward amidst a real riot of laughter.

The play touches upon many issues of today: Loadshedding – of which the Alhamra Hall with its faulty generator continued to provide ready proof of, at least for the first few days of the performance – terrorism, Veena Malik, the general environment in the country. It talks about the current disconnect with the founders and founding principles of Pakistan and about political parties such as the PPP, PML-N, PTI… even MQM in a typically teasing yet subtle style of its writer.

The desired ambiance is well achieved and some readily available tones, such as the one worn by the very familiar air-hostess, have been ably tempered with a few not in usual nuances. The actors are new to Lahore audience, but many of them leave impressions that promise to last for long.

Hassam Khan plays the Quaid-i-Azam, Wasam Khan slips into the venerable Iqbalian robe, while Dawar Mahmood, the director, fills in for Maulana Shaukat Ali. All three come up with admirable performances. The rest of the cast includes Hareem Farooq, Mojiz Hassan, Bilal Yousufzai, Taha Ali, Sana Khan Niazi, Usman Ali Khan, Amafah Mubashir, Idress Mir, Shahzaib Malik, Yasir Hussain, Shanzeh Razzaq, Wahab Shah and the youngest member (10 years old) Ali Sultan. These are all relatively new Karachi-based actors who will benefit from their experience of working in a very successful production.

‘Pawnay 14 August’ continues at Alhmara Hall-2, The Mall, till July 17. The tickets start from Rs1,500.