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Theatrics: The warrior poet comes alive

April 07, 2013

After the success of the theatre play on Rahman Baba, the culture department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) recently staged another play at Nishtar Hall in Peshawar based on the life of the great warrior and tribal chieftain, Khushhal Khan Khattak, whose life has left indelible marks on generations of Pakhtuns.

Born to Shahbaz Khan at Akora Khattak, District Nowshera in 1613 A.D. the young Khushhal Khan Khattak had to shoulder the responsibility of being a tribal chieftain and also win the favour of the then Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Soon after a unanimous jirga decision, Khushhal Khan Khattak took the charge to lead his tribe in the wake of his father’s death. Through a royal decree the Mughal ruler, too, supported the young leader and sent him on expeditions to crush the revolt of Raja Baghat Singh, the then ruler of Kohat and Kurram, and some other defiant Pashtuns.

With a sword in one hand and a pen in another, Khan Baba excelled in many fields — warfare, horsemanship, falconry, hunting and writing poetry and prose. He set new trends in Pashto literature through his powerful writings and according to some historians he authored more than 200 books on various subjects.

In the first phase of his life and within a short span of time he mustered the support of Pashtuns from Kandahar, Kabul to the plains of Peshawar and mountains of Swat. His growing popularity and widespread fame soon became of particular concern to the Mughals who exploited his petty family issues and ended up sending him to Rathanbore prison for five years.

There, Khuhhal Khan Khattak underwent much soul-searching and came to the realisation that he had hurt the feelings of the Pakhtun tribes for the sake of Mughal loyalty and it was here in prison that he pended down his celebrated treaty — Dastarnama — considered a masterpiece even today and which enumerates the characteristics of successful Pakhtun leaders. On his release, he declared a revolt against the Mughals, making them a metaphor of aggression and symbol of evil in Pashto literature.

He devoted the rest of life to the unification of Pakhtuns against Mughal aggression and social evils till his death on Feb 20 (Friday), 1689 A.D. at the age of 76 in a cave located at Dabara near Dara Adamkhel Afridi. The theatre play on the rise and fall of this great Pakhtun hero aimed at drawing lessons from past mistakes.

With 20 major and 60 minor characters, seven sets and 35 scenes the play was an ambitious project. Kalim Khan, a young actor, played the role of Kushhal Khan Khattak while senior and seasoned actors Javed Babar, Tariq Jamal, H.M. Raza, Jamil Babar, Habib Mehtab, Samad Shad, Jehangir Adil, Shahen Shah Afridi, Asif Shah, Ishrat Abbas, Siraj Akbar, Naeem Jan, Umar Daraz, Umar Gul, Sultan Hussain, Masooma Sara Khan, Shahnaz, Mashaal, Fazal Subhan, Prof Mohammad Khamis, Mansoor Babar, Noor Jahan and Meena Shams had pivotal roles.

“Being a multi-faceted personality, it was not easy to present on stage everything Khan Baba did, but to give a collective impression to the audience so that they could have a wholesome idea of a great warrior poet, political leader and intellectual at the same time,” said Noorul Bashar Naveed, the writer of the play. Also he said that the taste for theatre in Peshawar was long forgotten and reintroducing theatrics in the militancy-hit province was an uphill task.

Director Masood Ahmad Shah said, “Managing a huge cast on stage was a great job but my team played it out it in a befitting manner. I am also satisfied with the intelligent response of the audience. I strongly believe that theatre plays can draw in crowds in Peshawar and local talent can do it in their own way, more theatre plays on such great national heroes should be planned for educating our young generation.”

Theatre enthusiasts from as far away as Islamabad, Quetta and Kabul demanded that the play should also be staged in these cities while others suggested that a private Pashto TV channel should adapt this theatre play into a serial.

The Afghan Cultural Attaché in Peshawar, Parvin Malal, while talking to Images on Sunday, said, “I watched the play with great interest and I am really impressed with the superb performance of the actors, script of the play and directorial skills.” In reply to the demand made by Afghan university students to stage Khushhal Khan Khattak in Kabul, she said such proposals could be discussed at a federal level, adding that Pakhtuns need to celebrate their heroes in a befitting manner.