Theatre with message

By Sarwat Ali
Tue, 12, 15

In its fifteenth production, Azad Theatre tackles a stock theme – the importance of education

Azad Theatre has joined the group of those thespian activists who believe in the instructional value of theatre. Their recent production Do Dooni Chaar staged at the Alhamra Cultural Complex last week was about the importance of education, with particular focus on the education of children, especially girls in a society like ours. It should be a matter of no surprise that the initiative was supported by non government organizations that have been involved in the drive to bring home the importance of education.

In a country where major portion of the population lives below the poverty line, investment in education with its long gestation prospects of dividends is distant to truly matter in the everyday lives. Since the returns are not instant, it is seen as a luxury. Then, in a society not run exclusively on merit, questions have always been asked about those being rewarded who are undeserving of it, while people with requisite qualifications are left behind. This has over generations, left a legacy of cynicism and lack of trust in any long term prospect. What is of value is the project that yields immediate gains.

The play was located in a village where the school had become thedera or a cattle barn of the local influential who was also an aspiring politician and a weary heavily-indebted family less concerned about educating their children, particularly girls, than paying off its debts. There were the usual cahoots of the police, the local influential and the hired thugs forming the underpinning of a political nexus, leaving the private schools which had made education beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen of the state as beneficiaries.

The action started with the arrival on transfer of a dedicated school teacher who wanted to restore the school building to its original purpose and hence faced the ire of all the forces opposed to it. It needed greater effort on his part to convince the debt ridden family of the value of education beyond the cost benefit analysis viewed in terms of hard currency. The family was even willing to accept the offer of their disabled son to be taken for beggary to city in return for a fixed sum every month. The women of the family, particularly the mother Sima played by Naina Baloch, showed more resolve and insisted on educating the children including the girls while the men were shown as dithering under various forms of pressures.

It was, thus, no coincidence that the play had to be preceded by a lecture on the importance of education. In other words, the audiences were being directed to see the play in a certain manner and with certain caveats, lest the response of the audience wavered. Nothing it seemed was left to chance in a play that was staged for a specific purpose. In full certainty, theatre was seen as a hand maiden to social reform and a hence bright future.

It needed greater effort on the teacher’s part to convince the debt ridden family of the value of education beyond the cost benefit analysis viewed in terms of hard currency.
It was stock theme with stock situation and stock characters. One wonders whether these stock situations can be handled in some other manner because these have been given similar treatment, almost to death, by the popular media like film and television as well as that theatre which has indulged in the missionary zeal for the betterment of society. Perhaps, the detractors might turn round and say that the situation has remained the same all these generations and it is only a theatrical representation of that stark situation. But stock treatment leads to stock responses and somewhere this pattern of sameness and the familiar has to be changed for a more shocking response by the audiences, if the purpose of theatre – to bring home the advantages of a message – is to be made more effective.

Malik Aslam and Sarfraz Ansari have been the two pillars of Azad Theatre and it was their initiative to set up this group and now they have something like fifteen productions to their credit. In this production, too, their involvement was more than apparent as Malik Aslam directed the play and Sarfraz Ansari played the leading role of the school master, Noor Anwar. Written by William Perveez, the production followed the familiar pattern of part dialogue, part singing, and part dancing. In most of the productions, as indeed the productions of parallel theatre groups, the monotony of acting is neutralised by infusion of music and dance. Sarfaraz Ansari has a trained voice and a sense of music, so he puts it to more advantage than many might have done. The others who played the parts were Zohaib Haider, Naina Baloch, Nadeem Abbas, Imran Khan, Aliya Abbasi, Waseem Ali while the dances were choreographed by Zoya Qazi.

Some of these names have figured regularly in most productions of Azad Theatre and this seems to be the core group. It has known to happen that actors and other theatre personages keep changing their loyalties or their professions and the inflow of young talent stays untrained and uninitiated. It is always good when the more experienced work with the younger lot as the two then make up a healthy twosome to ensure continuity.