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October 25, 2020

Revisiting the ideals of journalism, family life


October 25, 2020

Though the Karachi Theatre Festival 2020 ended on Friday on a hilarious note, its penultimate and antepenultimate plays were a serious affair as an adaptation of Indian playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s ‘Kamla’ was staged on Thursday with the name of ‘Bano’; while, on Wednesday Henrik Ibsen’s classic ‘A Doll’s House’ was enacted.

Both the plays dealt with the theme of how apparently successful marriages can be based on women’s exploitation without them being aware of it.

‘Bano’ was adapted by Kiran Siddiqui who also played the role of Bano, a girl from Ghotki purchased by a journalist, Zafar (played by Paras Masroor), who wants to expose ‘flesh trade’ in the country with concrete evidence.

However, Zafar, who takes pride in being part of the journalistic fraternity whose aim is to expose evils and exploitations in society, does not realise that how much his family dynamics are working to the disadvantage of his wife, Aalia (played by Fajr Sheikh), who is supposed to manage everything as per her husband’s wishes while he fails to empathise with her whenever she needs emotional support from him.

Later on, the journalistic ideals of Zafar are also revealed as being quite hollow as he wilfully exploits Bano while trying to expose exploitation of women and flesh trade. He takes the poor girl to a press conference where she has to face inhumane questions.

His character is further exposed when he comes home drunk with a journalist friend, Faraz (played by Farhan Alam), revelling in the success he attained at the press conference. There the two journalist friends make fun of the inhumane questions with Zafar supposing that Bano, being an illiterate girl, must not be hurt. This creates a conflict between Zafar and Aalia. The wife decides to spend that night alone when she is encountered by Bano who in all her innocence asks Aalia how much Zafar had paid to buy her. This conversation alters the worldview of Aalia who finds out that she is worse than Bano as she is there to serve Zafar without being purchased.

In all this mix is a character of Aalia’s uncle, Kaka Jaan (played by Nazar Ul Hasan) an old school journalist who has come from Mirpurkhas for some work and is staying with Zafar and Aalia. He serves as a devil’s advocate who on the one hand questions Zafar’s journalistic ideals and on the other hand tries to counter Aalia once she starts reviewing her role in her marriage life.

The play was directed by Meesam Naqvi and nicely enacted especially in the intense scenes such as when the two journalists come home drunk and have arguments with Aalia and Kaka Jaan or when Aalia converses with Bano at night.

However, at the end when Aalia refuses to offer support to Zafar who has collapsed after coming to know about his dismissal, the cast momentarily comes out of their roles and a brief dialogue on some aspects of women’s exploitation in society takes place between Kiran and Fajr. Though that dialogue garnered applause, it made the play overtly polemic, which was not necessary.

A Doll’s House

The audience’s expectations were not very high after it was announced at the start of the play, A Doll’s House, that it was being staged by amateur theatre students of the Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) in their initial semesters. It was told that from set designing to direction, every task was performed by the young students themselves.

ACP’s theatre department incharge Meesam Naqvi rather appealed to the audience to give their negative feedback to him, instead of the performers, in case they did not like the play so that the students do not get demotivated.

However, as the play ended, the audience was thrilled and full of praise for the new artistes who despite quite a few glitches here and there had succeeded in staging an effective production of the masterpiece by Henrik Ibsen, translated into Urdu by Shoaib Hashmi.

The play, which was first performed in 1879, was much ahead of its time as it showed a woman deciding to leave her husband and children to attain self-realisation. It is as relevant today with the feminist movement and its varied interpretations gaining popularity day by day.

The central character of the play is of Ayesha (played by Alina Gulzar) who is in an apparent happy relationship with her possessive husband Asad (played by Daniyal Bahalim). The couple expect to be doing much better in the future as Asad has been promoted to a managerial position at a bank.

However, the apparent success of their marriage is actually all due to the complete submission of Ayesha to the flawed value system of her husband who thinks he has all the authority and knowledge to guide his wife in all matters of life. He rather calls her his bird or his squirrel, suggesting that he treats her more like his pet than an individual human being.

It is revealed that once Asad had fallen critically ill in the past and since they did not have money, Ayesha had to borrow money from a man, Saulat (played by Shahzeb Abbasi) and as a desperate measure had to forge the signature of her father to show that he was the guarantor. Since Asad does not like borrowing, Ayesha has been hiding that matter from him and saves money to pay back the loan.

Saulat works in the same bank where Asad has been promoted. Due to some misconduct, Asad fires Saulat, prompting the latter to blackmail the former with the forged signature made by his wife to him.

As Asad comes to know about it, his toxic masculinity is exposed as he fails to acknowledge the sacrifices rendered by his wife. However, when, due to the intervention of Adeela (played by Hira Hamdani), Saulat decides to forgo and returns the document with the forged signature, Asad reverts to his normal state and conveniently declares that he has forgiven Ayesha. The wife, however, decides not to take this anymore and leaves the house.

The performance by the cast was praiseworthy, and given that they were inexperienced, it was a great feat by all of them.