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Monday May 27, 2024

Curtain-raiser: A cinematic turn on stage

By Amina Baig
November 18, 2022

Karachi: Sunil Shanker has a terrific way with translating text to stage. Everything the actor-director does becomes larger than the stage, the story, the audience. In fact, not to deter anyone from watching a Sunil Shanker production, but his brand of theater is rather exhausting. You will become so engaged with the characters and what they’re going through, it would be hard to walk away without feeling wrung out.

The cast of the play features Fawad Khan, who is also Repertory Director at NAPA, and as Shanker jokes, put all the pressure on him to stop waiting for Nazrul Hassan (Shanker’s first choice for the role that went to Khan) to wrap up casting quickly. Bazelah Mustafa, as well as Osama Tahir and Naveed Kamal were also top choices in their roles for Shanker, while Kulsoom Aftab – whom the director says is “magical” onstage – was second choice too.

That said, the energy of the cast combined is upbeat, and a little crazy. This, says Shanker, is the energy he hopes they will replicate onstage too.

“A play is like a brain,” he says, “anything can happen in it, but bringing that to stage is tough. With film, there will be the convenience of technology, but theater is inflexible in what it will allow.”

Saying that, Shanker has managed to pull off what he himself would describe as cinematic feats with previous productions, and is quite dexterous with manipulating spaces, people, and things to the play’s advantage.

“Trying to explain the play is like looking for a black cat, in a room painted black room, that is pitch dark,” says Fawad Khan, while Kulsoom Aftab reveals what she loved most about working on Reader. “Sunil asks for his cast to be truthful. The cast are the building blocks of the structure that is the play, and if one of them isn’t in line with their truth, the whole structure will collapse.

“The play is made up of moments,” says Aftab, “and if you’re someone who likes stopping, examining, and contemplating moments, you will like Reader.”

If all the above statements make you feel Reader might be too heavy for a chill Saturday night, regard the fact that Hassan Raza (last seen being hilarious in Parde Mein Rehne Do)is not only part of the cast, but also thinks that the play, unanimously described as a thriller by his castmates, is, “ajeeb. Play ki feel ajeeb hai.”

– Reader runs at the National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi from November 18 to 27.