A 60-minute event showcased brilliant performances by amateur and aspiring actors
It was a small and cosy venue. Around fifty people took to cushions and chairs to watch eight actors and actresses — mostly young, in their early 20s — step onto a compact stage to make grand enactments of Shakespearean plays, famous poetry, and in a few cases, perform their own writings (which seemed, to me, the best parts of the roughly 60-minute show).
Before the performances began, I had a small chat with the instructor and adjudicator of these acting classes at Faiz Ghar, Faiz’s own grandson, Adeel Hashmi. He needs little introduction given his contribution to the world of television, film and advertisement, or to teaching itself. He’s been doing these things for over two decades, and he’s taught up-and-coming actors for a similar amount of time too. In small batches, in brief durations, for a fee.
Hashmi spent a good three months with this batch, with the exceptions of Alina Zahid, who first took a course with him at LUMS and has been under his mentorship for the last four years, in both acting and writing; and Haris Masood, who’s worked as a volunteer for Faiz Ghar festivals and workshops in the past, although this was his first foray into acting. He’s a married man with children, so there are no age barriers here.
I asked Hashmi where his students usually end up; very few in theatre, he said, even though the stage is where they’re starting. But there’s not much theatre to go around Lahore, other than Ajoka. Most aim to end up in television where the money is.
Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter and Adeel’s khala (aunt), gave an opening speech to get things going, recalling Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando’s presence on the stage or in front of camera, that it wasn’t the lines that made the role, the fiction, believable; it was the weight of their words, the delivery, the body language. She enjoined upon the young people to replicate a similar presence; forceful, one that commands attention. Mostly, they did.
The performances started with a dramatised recitation of an Urdu poem of Yasmeen Hameed, titled Mein Sona Chahti Hoon, by Anam Husain; a 23-year-old graduate of the UCLA who recently returned to Pakistan and found her interests increasingly swerved towards acting. She’s the one who first attended a two-day acting class by Adeel Hashmi and persuaded him to do it for three months instead. She’s also the one who put together this group of people. Not to forget, her recitation as the show opener was the literal fruit of her own labour.
Next came Shehrbano Rehmani, who performed a bit of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, a play about the Trojan War and how two lovers from Troy are separated when Cressida is taken to the Greek camp. In the midst of the turmoil Troilus asks why they did not declare love for each other before that fateful point. To which she says she has always loved him: ”But though I loved you well, I wooed you not; I wished myself a man, or that we women had men’s privilege of speaking first.”
After another Shehrbano skit from Hamlet, Adeel Hashmi quipped, “White people should learn how to do Shakespeare from us.”
Alina Zahid took to the stage to perform What is cheating? a self-written skit about what faithfulness in a monogamous relationship entails, with Hasan Toor playing the significant other. Toor’s character displays a lack of interest in the conversation, bouncing a ball off the walls while the woman asks what cheating is to him. He thinks for a while, then says if someone gets physically intimate with a person who is not their partner, that’s cheating. The woman then asks what if the person gets emotionally intimate with a person who is not their partner. He says he supposes that’s a form of emotional cheating. She says what if she was more emotionally intimate with her friend Fatima. The man nonchalantly, perhaps stereotypically, says he has no problem with that; in fact she can sleep with her too, if she wants.
The audience laughed.
“It’s only when another man is involved that I consider it cheating. But why are you so obsessed with this?”
“Is there someone I should know about?” the woman asks.
The man replies: “Is there someone I should know about?”
The audience laughed again.
“But I want to know, because how will I know if you’re cheating on me unless you tell me what you think cheating is. Well, I knew what it was a minute ago, now I’m just confused.”
The guy finishes with “Look, if I see a girl and find her attractive enough to be with her but don’t act on the feeling it’s not cheating. Like I hate my boss, I hate him, but I haven’t killed my boss, so I’ve done nothing wrong.” It ended with laughter too. The two received thorough applause; in fact, all the performers got loud ovations.
Haris Masood then did a recitation of Mujh say pehli si mohabbat in a lockup set, playing Faiz in prison, circling around his wife Alice sitting in a chair until the jail warden calls time on their meeting.
It was followed by Adeel Hashmi’s preamble for the next skit. Faiz was Saadat Hasan Manto’s teacher at one point in history, but Manto never showed up in the class. “Mein masroof rehta hoon,” he’d say. Doing what, Faiz would ask. “Writing stories,” came the reply. When Faiz read some of them, he said to Manto, “You don’t need to come to class. Go on writing stories.”
It was a court scene played by Ali Qasim, where Manto could be seen answering the allegations of sensationalism, vulgarity, profanity and sexual violence in his stories. “I simply write what I see in the world around me,” he says. “I take a white chalk to a black board. If this is the language people use, if these are the things they do, why should my writing hide from them?”
Nayum Farooki, who came afterwards, played a teacher delivering a speech to her students about conspiracy theories and aliens who “make milkshakes out of brains.” They’re everywhere, they could be anyone.
“Can you get married to an alien?” a student asks.
“You’re probably already married to one,” she replies.
She goes on a further two minutes about how horrifying the world outside is, how ruthless and cannibalistic, then concludes with “and that, Class One, should be enough for today.”
Another bout of audience laughter.
Anam Husain presented a monologue about receiving divorce papers as a woman who refuses to lose her companion. “I ate the divorce papers. They tasted really good,” she starts with, to the audience’s amusement. She ends, after several arguments with herself, weeping on the stairs at the bottom of the stage, while her husband, played by Hasan Toor, sits across from her but says nothing.
Alina Zahid had a monologue called Unsent Letters. She told the audience that she had written many letters to the man she loved, hoping they would break his heart but they only broke hers.
Kulsoom Malik appeared in a skit about two estranged sisters who meet after a long time. Malik’s character explains, in a heavy drawl and a South American accent, how inconvenient and costly the deaths in their family have been, the funerals, the wakes.
Hasan Toor returned, this time to enact a courtroom scene, written by himself, where the judge is hearing a case of rape and murder of a minor which has left the public opinion divided. A 10-year-old Christian girl was raped, then thrown in the well, but not enough people seem to care. Even in the newspaper (Nawa-i-Waqt), he says, mention of it is on the very last page.
His monologue questions our sense of justice, our moral values, of doing right by each other. “Not just for humans, but for humanity itself.”
All the performers were well drilled — there were no mistakes, no hesitation, they changed wardrobes as they went around skit to skit, recitation to recitation, efficiently, like it was second nature to them. Just like they’d switch between English and Urdu.
Hashmi would sometimes establish directorial authority by shouting “Quiet on the set,” perhaps preparing them for a professional environment. They all seemed to possess enough talent to get there. They had done diverse range of things — drama, satire, impassioned speeches, tragic soliloquies, mirth, calm, rage and most of all, audience engagement, walking amongst them, addressing them.
As all eight took to the stage, to bow and receive their well-deserved plaudists, Hashmi pointed out and recited a part of Faiz’s ode to young people he had written in 1952, titled Irani Tulaba Kay Naam, specifically the end where he calls the youth the “jewels of the queen of life, of existence.”
The author is a writer and freelance journalist who has written for local and foreign publications