My favourite part about experiencing fresh talent is the honesty behind their efforts. The limelight is still new and terrifying, the mistakes are sincere but not a fixture of their skill and most importantly, the passion behind their performance is genuine. This is what Punerjehan was about. And everything about it was refreshing.
The play was staged outdoors, with our traditional gao takias and a few cats strewn across the floor, the latter, however underwent constant removal procedures but to no great avail. The play started relatively late due to the fact that it was a musical and the organisers decided it would be best to wait till the azaan had been called out. As the play commenced the lights turned to a black and blue of a stagnant bruise and we saw the dead city rise. Dispassionate, detached and devolving, the citizens of Punerjehan filed to the stage dancing in a strange hybrid of the robot and the zombie. They go about their daily activities but with soulless eyes and every expectation that nothing eventful will happen today, just like it is every day.
Except today is not like every day and a child opens a box to unleash the melody that will bring a rainbow wearing nymph (Heba Hashmi) to their desolate town and henceforth make it absolutely burst with light, laughter and glitter. So much glitter... She brings with her the gift of culture, passion and love and soon the people of the town give in to the arts. Some turn to painting, some to music, some to literature, all to dance. The mayor of the city (Salman) who has strived to devoid it of all ambition and inspiration tries to put a stop to all the merriment but he too gets swept away with the music and is left transformed. It is here that Fragaria (Mariam Paracha) is to become the muse of a musician, Taberaize (Zain Hashmi) and the two fall in love. One of the village elders, in an attempt to keep up with tradition uses the mayor's evil cronies (Maha Minaj and Hamza Khan) to ignite mistrust and heartbreak between the two lovers. This breeds a narrative of deceit, conflict, love, duty, religion and all the wobbly bits in between that have no name.
Every actor was exceedingly expressive and you could tell that they had invested their souls into this production. Surprisingly short, the play leaves you with a twinge of disappointment but only because it ended too quickly. One got far too attached to all the prancing and heartfelt interpretation of life being staged. When asked, the co-director (Zehra Nawab) explained that Punerjehan was their offspring. The name (their original invention, of course) literally means the city of renaissance or rebirth and that the story is about an awakening of a people.
Undeniably, if not for Usman Riaz’s riveting music direction, Punerjehan would be like a disoriented orchestra without a lead. The moods interchanged sinuously in an assortment of euphonious music from string and wind instruments, body percussion and most notably, the piano.
His composition, 'the waves', well-interposed into the track, walked a delicate balance of tension and expectance with its high-strung keys. The harmonica solo also came as a surprise, leaving one asking for more amidst the uplifting amalgamation.
The play was produced by Laaltain and hosted at Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture and is the product of many of their students. Set-wise, the lights were handled flawlessly and successfully intensified feelings of suspense, dread and triumph. The set was innovative and well constructed, complete with bursts of glitter and rose petals over your head. The dances were happy and energetic and for a play without words, it most definitely spoke volumes. Creative and constantly entertaining, Punerjehan is like nothing you have seen within the boundaries of our own, slowly decaying city.