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August 21, 2022

Betaali Prem Katha at Zia Mohyeddin Theatre takes viewers on a journey through mythical times

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e perceive the world through our senses, and the arts allow us to understand, observe, explore and experiment so that we might express ourselves. Theatre and performing arts provide a way for us to interact with others.

Theatre allows dance, music and movement to be combined with use of language to express complex ideas. Betaali Prem Katha, written and directed by Fawad Khan, an alumnus of the National Academy of Performing Arts and a faculty member at the academy, is being performed at the Zia Mohyeddin Theatre from August 14.

Betaali Prem Katha is inspired by a tale from an old Sanskrit epic, Kathasaritsagara (Ocean of Rivers of Stories). It is a monumental narrative from the 11th Century, featuring a collection of loosely twined Indian folklores, fairy tales and myths, comprising stories, highlighting the gendered experience of space.

The play begins with Prem, a Brahmin boy, exploring the fundamentals of wisdom, meaning and knowledge. During his adventure he reaches Roopnagar, a city his father had advised him against visiting. Here, Prem encounters a man, Betaali, who seems to have magical powers and panache for story-telling. His stories raise thought-provoking questions. He warns Prem that if he is unable to answer the question accurately he will be tortured to death. A chain of strange events then holds the audience’s attention for two hours.

Turning the story into a theatre play was quite a challenge. But Khan has done a great job of it. He has also done a spectacular job with direction. Costumes, set design, sound and lighting are all impressive. It isn’t until the lights go out that one snaps back into the mundane world to applaud the performance.

Betaali strives to decolonise our literature and question our roots and social conformities. This is a much-needed exercise in a nation where a large chunk of work is dominated by Western texts.

Erum Bashir has done a great job of choosing traditional Indian costumes. Make-up supports the period theme and is convincing. The lighting sets the suitable mood and emphasis. The music by Bhagat Bhoora Laal brings the whole experience alive.

Betaali is highly entertaining. It also strives to decolonise our literature and question our roots and social conformities. This is a much-needed exercise in a nation where a large chunk of creative work is dominated by Western texts. The production is one of the most ambitious in recent months. The performance resonated with the audience by capturing myth and magic in a nautanki style.

One always expects a play produced by Khan to be brilliant. Brilliant it was. Having already impressed with his performances in Western plays including Shakespearian theatre, he has now shown that he can also make classical regional stories relatable.

Fawad ensures that his work is situated amidst actors familiar with and experienced around similar work. The attention to detail was breathtaking.

The cast included Rahil Siddiqui, Sunil Shanker, Shabana Faizan, Erum Bashir, Ifrah Khalid, Samhan Ghazi, Kiran Siddiqui, Naveed Ahad Kamal, Fahad, Rao Jamal, Taha Hafeez, Arisha Samon, Zubair Baloch and Manal Siddiqui, each with a compelling performance in their own tall standing. The play highlighted an unbelievable emotive wit.


The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi



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