Night of the soul

Geet Ghazal Night at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) was a throwback to some of our legends and was an event comprised of NAPAs alumni and current students.

The event being one of the last of the 20 day festival did not have a very large turnout but that did not prevent the participants from performing their best. The singers were backed by two accordion players, one of them devoid of sight, a violinist and an exceptionally skilled man playing the tabla. The first two performers, Irum and Haroon Rashid were adequate, though Irum didn’t sound too comfortable with the higher pitches and Rashid had taken on to cover ghazals by Mehdi Hassan, no Herculean feat in itself.

Irfan Ali Bahadur sang one of the most famous hits by the legend ‘jab koi pyaar se bulai ga’ and had the audience clapping along to his performance. Ali Bahadur has quite a following on social media websites and for good reason. He is confident, comfortable with the stage and controls his audience. Then the highlight of the evening was most definitely Iqra Sarwar and her gloriously engulfing voice. When she took the stage, many in the audience stared, mouths agape. The performers had a fair idea of what the audience wanted to hear and obliging their unspoken anticipation Sarwar sang Lambi Judai.

Nadir Abbas and Ahsan Shabir, both being musical stars of NAPA, performed wonderfully and one of Shabir’s performances was a duet with Irum Nafees which was an old school chart topper ‘aap ko bhool jayen hum itne to bewafa nahi.’ Overall there is nothing quite like live performances and the Academy is churning out proficient actors and perhaps because of that the expectation for brilliance is even higher for the music students and they have a lot to deliver. However the atmosphere was tranquil and many in the audience visibly relaxed and swayed gently to the music of yesteryear and Monday evening is probably the most ideal time to find yourself in such a peacefully nostalgic environment.

The revolutionary chant

KARACHI, April 7: It is never easy to pull off a wheels-within-wheels kind of a play — a play with strong political, intellectual and historical underpinnings. Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade is one of the most difficult dramas to be produced on stage primarily because of its ambiguous subject matter and characters. When it was first presented in the 1960s theatre-goers did not digest it readily and even to date when it’s staged, not everybody can get the hang of it.

Sunil Shankar’s version of Marat/Sade, translated by Dheeraj Laal Chaneeliya and Kashif Hussain and performed at the National Academy of Performing Arts’ in-house auditorium on Saturday evening, was a reasonable effort on two counts: one, it managed to recreate the spectacle that the play is known for; two, it did not tamper with the inherent, unresolved uncertainty of the drama, therefore compelling the audience to put their thinking caps on. The action takes place a few years after the French Revolution in the asylum of Charenton. The asylum’s director Coulmier (Wusullah Khan) tells the audience that they’re about to see a play directed by the Marquis de Sade (Nazrul Hasan) with its characters played by asylum inmates to show the sequence of events that led to the death of the revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat (Hassan Raza) at the hands of Charlotte Corday (Joshinder Chagger). The period ranges from the time of the French revolution to Marat’s death in 1808. Coulmier claims the play will shed light on the latest treatment of patients through education and art. He also believes that the drama will entail a patriotic view of the post-revolution France.

As the play (within the play) begins, it slowly descends into chaos of a different kind. Coulmier receives a surprise when the scenes enacted by the inmates are intensified with each passing moment and political overtones drown out the arty side of the drama. The patients speak lines that Coulmier hadn’t expected them to. As the plot thickens Sade himself becomes a character and engages in philosophical debate with Marat discussing the futility of the revolution. It becomes clear that the Marquis is trying to dissociate himself from political happenings and is interested in having an individualistic stance on life.

However, the two men’s verbal spat doesn’t alter the end of the play and Charlotte manages to kill Marat in one of the climactic scenes. Things go out of hand and the inmates go berserk. They beat up the nurses and the supervisor, signalling utter chaos and disorder.

Sunil Shankar seems to be an ambitious young man, as last year too he did the final and grand play, Equus, for the Napa festival. But ambition should be made of sterner stuff. If one is handling as complicated a theme as Marat/Sade, the director has to know the difference between screaming and shouting. On occasions the screams of the inmates sounded like shrieks and on other occasions their shouting created indecipherable din. This may have been done on purpose. The problem is that Napa doesn’t educate its audience before a historically and politically charged play about its background. They don’t have to, it’s not their job. What has to be kept in mind is the fact that Pakistani audiences are not accustomed to such forms of theatre, so a little bit of background information wouldn’t harm. When that doesn’t happen, a majority of theatre goers try to understand the play visually and by using their auditor sense. It is in this context that the loudness of Marat/Sade took away the charm of its storyline.

Shankar’s actors performed well. Rauf Afridi was quite impressive as Herald, as was Meesam Naqvi as Duperret who was in the asylum on the charges of sexual harassment. They looked one-dimensional characters, which was required of them. Nazarul Hasan and Hassan Raza could have been better, because for some reason both fumbled their lines here and there and in order to recover from that appeared less effortless. Joshinder as the drowsy Charlotte left much to be desired, though. The kind of talent that the actress has, she has to work on her voice because her voice is feeble, and when she strives to sound dreamy it becomes feebler.

Apart from these factors, the effort that the entire team put in was creditable. The footwork, for the most part, was synchronized and the pounding music that the inmates produced with their feet, not to mention the occasional songs, were quite good. It’s the nuances that needed to be worked on. Otherwise, kudos! — Text by Peerzada Salman and Madeeha Syed

Faraib

KARACHI: Nobel winning British playwright Harold Pinter was known for his short sentences and minimum use of lines marked by pregnant pauses.

When he investigated the intricacies of human relationships, he did so by trying to expose those facets of his characters which hid behind multiple masks. ‘Betrayal’ was one of his dramas that fell into that category. An Urdu adaptation of the play titled ‘Faraib’ written by Zohair Raza and directed by Uzma Sabeen at the National Academy of Performing Arts in-house theatre on Monday came pretty close to Pinter’s work in terms of intensity.

Faraib basically traces the seven-year deception trail of a married couple Ramiz (Rauf Afridi) and Zoya (Joshinder Chagger). Ramiz’s best friend Zain (Fawad Khan), who is also married, has had an affair with Zoya for the past five years and when the play commences Zoya tells Zain that she has told her husband about her unfaithfulness.

The play moves back and forth (mostly backwards) in time. When the audience first gets to see the protagonists it’s in 2013 at a restaurant where Zoya informs Zain she has come clean before her husband. The revelation disturbs Zain suggesting he never wanted Ramiz to know about it. During the course of their chitchat it is also revealed that it’s been two years since they broke up.

The next scene takes place at Ramiz’s house where Zain meets him to ward off guilt. He receives another shock when Ramiz, in a rather nonchalant way, discloses that he has known about the affair for the past four years.

The scene shifts to the year 2011 in a flat where Zain and Zoya spend time together. Here the issues weighing on their minds regarding their extramarital relationship peel off bit by bit as they quarrel over insignificant things.

The defining scene follows next in 2008 when during a foreign trip Ramiz manages to extract the truth out of Zoya and she confesses that she’s been having an affair with Zain. When the scene begins she is reading the book by an author that Zain, who is a publisher, has introduced. Ramiz in a roundabout way touches on the subject of the book and claims that it’s about betrayal. Zoya pretends she does not see him eye to eye. When Ramiz pushes the subject and tells her that he has received a letter addressed to her, Zoya realizes there is no use hiding the facts.

Then the flat where the lovers meet becomes the centre of attention. Zoya’s guilt becomes prominent and she mixes up a few facts about the foreign trip that she had with her husband. The sequence is followed by Zain and Ramiz’s discussion at a restaurant where Ramiz pricks Zain’s conscience but Zain puts that down to his drunkenness and is unaware that Ramiz knows about everything.

The penultimate scene happens in 2007 in the flat where the Zain and Zoya affair is in full swing. Zoya tells him that she ran into his wife, Ayesha, which perturbs Zain. When Zoya drops a hint that his wife might be interested in someone else he unconvincingly shuns the notion. The last scene unfolds in 2004 when during a party at Ramiz’s house Zain first expresses his love for Zoya.

Faraib was a successful effort in the sense that despite not being typically Pinteresque, it conveyed the crux of the story as far as concealed human emotions are concerned. The high point of the play was Joshinder Chagger’s impressive acting. Perhaps the only thing that she needs to work on is voice projection; otherwise she is a natural performer. In virtually every scene she outshone her co-actors, who, by the way, did not do a bad job. But one felt that Fawad Khan could have done a bit more to look like an audacious lover. Rauf Afridi was very good in a couple of scenes as the cuckold husband. Especially when he would suddenly start speaking at the top of his lungs, he persuasively portrayed the man faced with a painful truth and can’t do much about it.

The director too must be commended for being mindful of not just physical but psychological positioning of the characters. As for the script, since it is almost impossible to transfer a Harold Pinter drama into another cultural setting mainly because of the unspoken words, the writer’s effort was noteworthy. —text by Peerzada Salman

Khel Ek Raat Ka

Turkish media has been consumed in this region with a relish.

So an adaptation of a renowned Turkish play by the name of Dört Oyun [meaning four games] was more than welcome.

It is written by a famous Turkish playwright, poet and author Melih Cevdet Anday. Staged as Khel Ek Raat Ka and starring actors Saman Saeed and Saqib Khan, the play centers around their emotional escapades and the audience centers around them. A technique that has risen in popularity is employed in this production, where the audience surrounds the stage also known as theatre in the round. This method is excellent in order to gauge the reaction of the audience and if utilized fully can prove to be exceedingly engaging.

As the story goes, Man, Woman and Baby all burst in through the doors and to the stage, seeking refuge from the blistering blizzard. It is apparent from the beginning that the Man is drunk and that he and the Woman have no previous knowledge of one another. After the initial phases of awkwardness on behalf of the woman and the indifferent nonchalant disposition on behalf of the man have dispersed does the play truly begin.

The Woman at first tries to sleuth out of the Man what he thinks of her. Does he think she’s a woman of ill repute? Does he think this is a habit of hers, to just waltz into a strange mans home? What did she do that got her out in the severe cold anyway? The irony being that the Man doesn’t really care, one way or another. He insists that bringing a lone Woman and her baby to his home, out of the cold, was an act of kindness he committed without second guesses. Thus begins to unfurl a more psychological drama. The Woman is trying to achieve some sort of external validity through this Man, she wants him to see her as a person. And as we all know people are best known for their deceit, their betrayal and their selfishness. She asks him why he isn’t the least bit curious about her. She could be mad. She could be homicidal. That needn’t even be her baby.

The Man, drinking, stumbling is most hospitable to her ideas, he humours her through out and they embark on this emotional, personal, psychological, somewhat sinister route to expose each others past and present- all the while without ever asking the others name. The play in itself is much needed, in terms of cultural growth. It is delightfully matter of fact when discussing sexual encounters of both the Man and Woman. It portrays the pressurizing effects of society on an opinionated Woman and the pressure that an opinionated Man can put on society in return.

Sanam Saeed acted with the comfort of someone to whom the presence or absence of an audience doesn’t matter. She was humorous, she was hysterical and exceedingly neurotic but all to accurate effect. Saqib Khan on the other hand really did not utilize the purpose of the arena stage as for around forty minutes of the play he acted with his eyes closed. Perhaps what he was drinking was real brandy because he seemed to only gain confidence in the second quarter of the play. The set design was quite commendable, as they managed to fit in three separate compartments into such a small space, as the audience shared the stage with the actors.

Overall, it was encouraging to see a play that had enough faith in the audience to present itself as mature, candid and real.

- Text by Mehar Khursheed/Dawn.com

Music festivities at the Napa festival

One of the most ideal ways to adapt to changes is to fuse with it.

This was achieved at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) last night where some great Pakistani rockers took the stage by crooning old classics and playing on our ‘heartstrings’. They transformed vintage chart toppers into ballads with their melancholy guitar solos and fluid drum performances.

Local band Fuzon put aside their vocalist for an evening to take on the fresh graduates of Napa. Though there wasn’t a huge turnout, the band gave it their all and mesmerised the crowd with jaw-dropping performances. The musicians, with Immu on keyboards, Shallum on lead guitar, Jason on drums and Ali Zafra on bass, spoilt the audience with a night of music indulgence.

The main highlight of this show is Nafees Ahmed, head of Napa’s music department and sitar player of the night. Ahmed, who was behind those intricate sounds that gave depth to these modern renditions, also made it a point to introduce each student before their performances.

There were some inevitable moments where the vocalists did not coordinate their timings at the beginning of certain songs, but as the music droned on, their music instincts took over and gave a strong finish to their rough starts. It would not be fair to criticise these students though, as some of the songs were truly difficult for a trained singer, let alone newly trained vocalist.

Thanks to the budding talents of Napa, the concert is a delightful sound (and even visual) experience.

Text by Kurt Menezes and Mehar Khursheed.

Sar Bureeda Khwab

The second play of the Napa festival was Samina Nazeers’ Urdu adaptation of the renowned Arthur Miller classic Death of a Salesman. The original is a nostalgic play to begin with but the lyricism of our language made it seem even more so. Nazeer Farooqi (Nazar-ul-Hasan) played the lead quite brilliantly as he relayed the disillusionment that often accompanies living in a congested high-rise community.

There is a feeling of wistfulness all throughout the drama as Farooqi laments about the sliver of sunlight that fights its way through the residential apartments springing up around them, shutting their modest home in like a vault. He complains of the crowding, of his longing to be able to tend to a garden in his old age…if it wasn’t for his worthless offspring. This resentment is more pronounced towards his eldest born, Kamal Farooqi (Hammad Siddique), who has just returned home after a three year absence. The initial reason seeming to be that despite all the love and affection afforded to him, he has returned back home at the age of 30, still amounting to nothing.

The house is in need of repairs, the fathers’ income is commission based in a redundant position of door to door sales and the children are not bringing in any earnings. Abida Farooqi (Sameena Nazeer) as the mother is overjoyed just on the basis that her boys are all under one roof. Nazeers’ performance could have been more involved and could have used a more genuine demonstration of despair and sentimentality, instead it seemed superficial and forced.

The family’s growing tragedies include the suicidal senility of the eldest Farooqi, the plans of the youngest son, Ahsan, to abandon the family for marriage and Kamal’s disappointingly sinister past.The play gets into motion as both the father and eldest son prepare themselves for job interviews the next day. They have high hopes and frantically start counting the chickens before they have hatched. They make big plans for a big sparkling future based simply on the unfounded belief of them being magnificent. Their respective interviews are the catalysts that start laying bare the characteristics of both father and son.

The play is riddled with flashes of the family’s past and we are shown bits from the way the father lavishes attention, resources and love on the first born and the neglect endured by the second (Zain Nazar). The ‘woman’, a mark of Farooqi’s infidelity, is seen silhouetted in the dark, haunting Farooqi’s memories with her alluring laugh. The dilemma of family dynamics is portrayed splendidly as on the one hand you’re aching for the success of your flesh and blood and on the other you berate them for not living up to what is expected of them, and what is expected of them is sometimes unattainable.

Sarbureeda Khwab is not just about the failed sacrifices and fallen dreams of a middleclass family but also about the brutality of a capitalist system where the value of human effort and energy is of no value at all.

Text by Mehar Khursheed/Dawn.com

Napa festival begins with 'Accidental death'

KARACHI:News wise Pakistan is one of the best places to get yourself a story. The reason being that, despite paddling around in fountainhead of tales of the overly dramatic and sensational, no one can tell a story as colourfully as us.

Such is the case with Lau Tau Qatal Nama Mera. Adapted from Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, this Urdu play starts off with two stout Pakistani police officers, played by Sayyid Hammad Sartaj and Faraz Chhotani who begin by giving us some background on the infamy of their headquarters. Not long ago, a man suspected of a terrorist act, allegedly jumped to his death from the fourth floor.

The catalyst of the play is Shahjehan Narejo, who plays a character simply named Maniac in Fo’s original and Jaali in Farhan Alam Siddiqui’s adaptation. He is a shape shifting, Aladin-esque rogue who has been apprehended eleven times previously under the guise of different professions. With his wit and gift of manipulation he can disorient the officers enough for them to beg him to leave the premises, despite him being a wanted criminal. He returns to the headquarters to collect his things and dispose of criminal records he considers petty, sort of like Robin Hood. Due to a series of events involving him intercepting a phone call from a judge who wishes to investigate the alleged suicide from before, whose identity Jaali naturally decides to assume.

From there on it’s an unfolding of events how they happened according to witness and police testimony. While cross examining the other police officers (Hammad Khan and Farhad Alam) who were also in charge of the alleged terrorists’ interrogation, it comes to light that maybe something sinister was taking place. On a scale much grander than first conceived.

Shahjehan Narejo plays his character with energy, exuberance and is exceedingly engaging throughout. There were some technical slip ups with the phone ringing even after it had been picked up on stage, but on the whole the set and lighting were far too minimalist to leave a wide enough margin for faux pas. There are some bits of the play that delighted the audience considerably but the dialogue delivery could have been more animated and heartfelt. Overall it’s an apt play to lay bare how the nation feels in general about being lied to by those with who possess authority but have little sense to deserve it.

- Text by Mehar Khursheed/Dawn.com