Khalid Ahmad and the art of the second act

March 19, 2023

The veteran actor-director’s adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls is sharp, well-rounded, and gripping.

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Nazr ul Hasan (center) was as always, impressive in the titular role; Yogeshwar (center right) is charming and disarming


halid Ahmad is a theater triple-threat: actor, director, writer. When he adapts famous works in other languages to Urdu, and maintains the integrity of the original text, which is a talent all his own. When he directs, Ahmad usually favors the classical; classical texts, classical styles, classical mannerism. And while he delivers on the finesse he sets out to bring to all his works, Khalid Ahmad’s one failing is in the pace and length of his own prodcutions.

Whether it was Agha Hashr’s Yahudi Ki Larki, directed to pay homage to the playwright as well as Parsi theater, or the more recent Antigone: Eik Baaghi Shahzadi Ki Kahani, while the script, dialogue, sets, cues worked fabulously, the plays ran too long, with tedious monologues and a quality of abruptness that made them hard to sit through. It was perhaps with Baadshahat Ka Khaatma (Manto) and Naql Makani (Bedi), that Khalid Ahmad the director may have found his sweet spot: adapting short story to stage.

In An Inspector Calls (J.B.Priestley), Ahmad finds his genre: socialist mystery. There are no soliloquies, no lulls, and plenty of onstage chemistry. The play is well-cast, well-translated, well-rounded. It runs for a little longer than two hours, but is exciting enough throughout to encourage the audience to stick with it.

Perhaps the biggest thing An Inspector Calls has going for it is the cast. Firstly, Nazr ul Hasan is as always, on the money, a study in voice and movement, and absolutely grounded into his character. For anyone who’s only ever seen him play grim characters, in Baadshahat Ka Khaatma, he is endearing as the typical fool in love.

(Seated to standing) Ashmal Lalwany, Masooma Nadir, Anusha Khalid, Khalid Ahmad

Then there are Ashmal Lalwany and Yogeshwar Karera; the former is Mr Hayat Fazaldin’s (Khalid Ahmad) son; the latter, his future son-in-law. Lalwany is suitably anguished and always a little bemused in his role, while Karera is charming and forthright. What completely takes the play to another level is Anusha Khalid as Sara, Fazaldin’s daughter.

The way Anusha Khalid gives into her character’s despair and frustration, how she speaks, how she evolves within the span of the story, is palpable.

You can almost reach out and touch how helpless she feels, how certain she is of the family’s eventual doom, of their complicity in the tragedy that has occurred.

The actors are always at ease; always playing off each other, and their conversations and emotions as a family are completely believable. The actors are great, but of course, a slightly larger chunk of the credit goes to the man who has written these dialogues and directed how they are to be played. Khalid Ahmad is best when he’s directing stories that are frantically-paced, emotionally-charged, and hopefully will deliver more of the same during the rest of the year.

– The last performance of An Inspector Calls goes up at the National Academy of Performing Arts tonight, 8 p.m. sharp.

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