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10 things you might not know about Lahori Theatre

March 13, 2013

Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/
Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

(1) The women on stage can't dance without the presence of the male lead on stage. The wisdom behind this is that if the heroin is dancing without male company, she is doing this to excite the audience, while if she is doing this for her hero, it is sufficient to convince the authorities that the dance somehow, advances the story and is an essential part of the play and hence, permitted. Therefore, next time if you notice a bored looking man amongst a bevy of dancers sitting motionless in one corner, kindly be so accommodating as to bear him for the sake of the producer.

(2) Unbeknown to the audience, during the 12 minute interval of the play, eight minutes are dedicated to the Tableegh of the actors and dancers back stage. A very healthy practice in view of the deteriorating law and order situation. For your information, though, this isn’t a requirement of any clause under the Dramatic Performance Act 1876, nor of the Local Government Act of 2001. I wonder if this is the norm in cities besides Lahore.

(3) The number of songs in a play are reduced to four not just in Alhamra,  which is  government run, but at all private drama theatres too.  Except for Shalimar and Alhamra, private theatres, both of which aren’t monitored because they are near Bhatta Chowk and come under the Cantonment and therefore, outside of the City District Government jurisdiction. Both of these still have 16 to 23 songs in their plays. Also, no actor or actress has ever been banned while performing in these two theatres.

(4) It is the duty of the home department and the environment department (mehkama-e- tahafuz-e-mahol) to check if the plays have any vulgar content, explicit dance or risque jokes. A rehearsal is arranged when the inspectors, along with their friends allegedly monitor each dance move from various angles and help in choreographing too before granting it the certificate for public viewing.

(5) All the dramas have a 16-day spell and a total of 18 shows (two on Sundays). At times the producers pay some actors to perform only for four days in a spell and keep their picture on the posters and advertisements, while lesser known actors take over their roles. So, it is very probable that you go to see a show attracted by the names of certain performers and find them not making an appearance.

(6) A proposition was given to the DCO to place surveillance cameras in all the theatres to monitor the plays from their offices but it was rejected allegedly because from the director to peons, everybody has reserved seats for themselves and their guests in all running shows.

(7) The producers generously offer loans to the performers, which the uninitiated do not refuse since they have not made a mark and are short of money. Their talent fee gets  fixed till the time they repay those loans to the producers, which keeps on multiplying with time because of inflation. It may take years, if they ever get to pay the full amount back. With all this money in theatre these days, it is a known fact that artists usually remain unsettled for a long time and are liable to get blackmailed.

(8) The common word doing the round is that only 10 per cent of male theatre artists charge more than one hundred thousand for a spell and only 10 per cent of female artists charge less than a hundred thousand for a spell.

(9) Since the entertainment tax in Pakistan is quite high, all the event organisers try to get NGO letters to make the event look like fund raisers or do corporate shows to keep them ticket free. In case of a commercial ticketed event, there's no way out but to bribe the Excise Officers to under report the attendance be it a concert or any other activity. My sparrow told me that some of the Excise Officers at times do this free of cost for the dance dramas and instead, they ask for private shows for their close circle of friends, which I am inclined to view as their love of the arts. After all, who forgoes easy money these days?

(10) There is said to be a technique that producers employ on company actresses to achieve different objectives. They plant audience in the hall and when a girl starts her dance performance, the planted people start yawning and leave the hall. This makes the dancing girl throw moves she isn't supposed to make. Producers use this ploy to get the best out of the performer, whereas the competitors use it to get the performer banned.

The writer is a member of the band Beygairat Brigade

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.