Arieb Azhar becomes playwright with The River’s Daughter

May 21, 2023

Directed by Kulsoom Aftab, the production features model and actor Amna Ilyas and theater actor Fawad Khan.

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t isn’t every day that we get to witness the multi-talented Arieb Azhar stage a play as producer and playwright. However, it is happening and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

To that end, his upcoming theatrical play, The River’s Daughter, is getting ready to take centerstage at the Zia Mohyeddin Hall NAPA (National Academy of Performing Arts) in Karachi from 25th to 31st May 2023 in partnership with the British Council under the Gender Ecologies Programme. As the press statement revealed, it is produced by Arieb Azhar and ALL4ONE Communications (Private) Limited Pakistan, with Yasmin Whittaker-Khan and Insaan Culture Club as UK partners.

To be helmed by the seasoned Kulsoom Aftab, it is technically not Arieb’s first tryst with theatre. His association with performing arts and music is well-known but as Arieb Azhar told Instep, he finds the medium of theatre all-encompassing as it can include several elements including folk, music, dance, as well as storytelling in a unique fashion. In a way, it is a comeback to theatre for Arieb Azhar after his initial days that started 30 years ago, “having grown up as part of the Dastak theatre group from Karachi in the 1980s”.

We won’t give away the story except to say that Arieb Azhar is one major component of The River’s Daughter. Apart from Amna Ilyas, another actor in the role of a protagonist is also seasoned theatre actor, Fawad Khan.

A great deal can be said about the premise of this essential play but to sum it up, it is dedicated to “tackling the pertinent subjects of ecology, economic exploitation, permaculture and climate justice”, and empowerment across genders.

What did make us curious is why the medium of stage appealed to Azhar so much that he wrote a play and not a song or a documentary on the subject within the performing arts field.

Said Arieb Azhar: “I grew up with Karachi’s Dastak theatre group in the 1980s. It was founded by Mansoor Saeed (Sania Saeed’s father) and Aslam Azhar (my father). Mansoor Saeed and Aslam Azhar ran the theatre group during Zia’s time. During that period, Dastak did a lot of plays.”

As Arieb Azhar recalled, they translated German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht’s plays to Urdu and staged them including the famous The Life of Galileo.

As Arieb Azhar and family moved to Islamabad and he went abroad, pursuing music, theatre took a backseat. But he reiterated that the medium of theatre is more than one performing art medium.

“Theatre allows various facets of performing arts to come together where many artistic elements work in unison to create one coordinated experience for the audience. I find the medium of theatre very beautiful, very powerful and challenging. I haven’t done theatre properly since I was 19 years old. Now I’m 50, so it’s been 30 odd years. I always wanted to get back intotheatre.” –Arieb Azhar on the medium of theatre.

“Theatre allows various facets of performing arts to come together with many artistic elements working in unison to create one coordinated experience for the audience. I find the medium of theatre very beautiful and very powerful and challenging. I haven’t done theatre properly since I was 19 years old. Now I’m 50 years old. It has been 30 odd years. I always wanted to get back into theatre. Last year I started thinking that I’d like to write a story about the environment, which I feel is the most relevant subject. It concerns all of us in the planet presently. I was in England for a few performances and I got talking to my friend, Yasmin Whittaker-Khan and they’d organized some of my performances. Whittaker-Khan also happens to be a published playwright in England and is a theatre person herself. So, I asked her for some advice and she gave me some tips. I came back to Pakistan and began working on my story.” A grant called Gender Ecologies by British Council followed.

“I thought my play is about the environment and the lead protagonist in my play is an empowered woman from the village and it sounded perfect for Gender Ecologies.

We got the grant. We went about preparing for the project. We will be staging it at NAPA Auditorium from May 25 to May 31. In July, I will be traveling to London where Yasmin Whittaker-Khan and Insaan Culture will be organizing rehearsed readings of the play with professional actors doing the reading in English. It will be open to the public.

“At NAPA, we will be staging the Urdu script of The River’s Daughter as a full production. I took characters from Sindhi folktale Umar Marvi where Umar is a king and he falls in love with Marvi, a village woman whom he kidnaps. She refuses his advances even though he woos her and makes promises. She refuses and says to him that my dharti (land) is closer to me including my village, the open sky and natural surroundings. I took that as an inspiration and in my story, Marvi is from a contemporary village in Sindh. She belongs to a river community and is an empowered, educated villager because her father returned to the village and set-up a school and library. Next to the village is a real-estate project called River Front Urban Project. Umar is the director of that project so they are the two protagonists.”

In addition to the protagonists, a strong veteran theatre guest performer is also a part of it as are folk musicians from Sindh and Southern Punjab. Meant to be an entertaining story, it is also one that has layers of an important message.

As for a chance to watch this fascinating theatre play, it is, as Arieb noted, “not a ticketed event but an invites-only production where invites will be sent to various people from different sections of society who are interested in gender empowerment”.

– Interested? You canregister for invitations.

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