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Friday May 24, 2024

A case of crowd’s madness under spell of populist narrative

By Zubair Ashraf
November 25, 2023

The Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) has been staging an Urdu adaptation of ‘The White Plague’, a satirical play originally written by Czech author Karel apek in 1937, a couple of years before the Second World War started.

Although the play was written several decades ago, it appeared still relevant to the present day for multiple reasons. Firstly, its plot dealt with a pandemic. Secondly, it was about warmongering that continues today in many parts of the world, particularly where fascist regimes are holding sway.

The image shows a poster of the an Urdu adaptation of ‘The White Plague’, a satirical play originally written by Czech author Karel apek in 1937. —x/CZinPK
The image shows a poster of the an Urdu adaptation of ‘The White Plague’, a satirical play originally written by Czech author Karel apek in 1937. —x/CZinPK

The play is set in a fictional country being controlled by a military dictator, Marshal, played by Saad Zameer, who is a close reminiscent of a Nazi leader. The country is plagued by leprosy. People are dying and there is no cure available, especially for the poor.

Contesting the belief that social classes are ordained by God, the play plants an important question into the audience’s mind in the beginning: “What kind of God that is who vents out their anger on the poor?”

The rest of the play attempts to answer this question by shedding light on the human greed for fame, power and money, which results in neglecting greater public interests on the pretext of patriotism and economic indicators.

A selfish Dr Sigelius, played by Fawad Khan, who rubs shoulder with society elites and brags about his scientific work against incurable leprosy asserts that all people over 45 would die in the pandemic. In contrast, a dove Dr Gulen, played by Abdul Rehman, has found a cure of the disease, but he is not willing to treat the affluent until they drop their support for the imminent war that, in his belief, would kill many more people than leprosy.

Dr Sigelius tries to subdue Dr Gulen into giving him the formula for the cure, but he does not succumb to pressure and continues to treat the underprivileged people only, refusing monetary offers that come his way.

When Seth Sahib, the owner of a factory that produces artillery, gets affected by the disease, he reaches Dr Gulen for the treatment. Dr Gulen puts a condition before him, which is stopping the production for war.

Eventually, Marshal, who claimed to be immune from everything bad being assigned a divine mission, also contracts the disease. Conceding to Dr Gulen’s demand is not easy for him but when he realises that in order to save himself, he must withdraw from the war, Dr Gulen agrees to treat him. However, before the doctor could bring his vaccine to the dictator, he is lynched by a mob that wants war.

The ending suggests that the dictator would die falling prey to the narrative of war that he propagated in the public. However, the public would also suffer the same fate, which made the ending all tragic.

All the cast performed well but Dr Gulen was played excellently by Rehman who is surely a promising actor. They play, directed by Meher Jaffri, will continue till November 26.