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Saturday May 18, 2024

Centerstage: Identity crisis, natak-style

Written and directed by Fawad Khan, The National Academy of Performing Arts’ latest, Betaali Prem Katha is sharp and relevant

By Amina Baig
August 23, 2022
Photos by author
Photos by author

Karachi: Though wrapped in every trapping that could fool anyone into believing Betaali Prem Katha is a very serious homage to the lost art of natak – which it is – what the play actually is, is playwright/director Fawad Khan putting forth some hot takes on the things no one talks about (in Pakistan*).

Firstly, how far should we go into our quest for more? Even if the more involves something as noble as learning, is learning everything really worth the journey? Sometimes you should stay at home and eat Kings Chips and call it a night.

Our protagonist, Prem, essayed very, very lovably-idiotically by Raheel Siddiqui, is on a quest for knowledge, on which he falls in love with a princess, played by Erum Bashir, who also handled costumes and we should all probably go take draping lessons from her like right now.

How can the pauper get his princess though? Why, with a gender-swapping remedy provided by someone he doesn’t know, of course! Some people might tell you Betaali… isn’t suitable for kids because of the topics it covers, we say it is unsuitable for anyone impressionable enough to accept candy from a stranger. First Juliet, now this guy. Kids, don’t let local holy men give you things to ingest to fix your love life, okay?

Prem moonlights as Premlatha by day, the princesses’ companion, and by night he’s Prem again, the princesses’ companion. It’s the perfect storm of romance and thrilling moments of what if your dad catches us, and other men entering the equation, and then infidelity and hearing hard truths like no one’s gonna off themselves for you, ok, you infant? Plus some handy tips for unmarried girls of marriageable age.

Centerstage: Identity crisis, natak-style

The play is a great work of theater and literature, and wins plenty of laughs. The segues are smooth and there are no interruptions. That’s what you would expect from Fawad Khan, who tends to be very serious when it comes to his work. Speaking of which, Khan, though serious, can sure write a joke, so Kudos to him for that.

He is also apparently a casting wizard, because Shabana Faizan, who plays Premlatha, is a very good translation of Raheel Siddiqui as a woman. The duo are also directed to move, speak, and gesture similarly, which adds great cohesion to the production overall.

They say all art reflects the artist a bit, and Khan is no different. His views and cynicism about certain aspects of the world come through the plays he helms. His artistic signature has to be having different actors play the same character, and in Betaali’s case, the same actors play different characters. Khan has always used the stage to surrealistic advantage, and with his newest production, it is clear that he’s mastered this particular treatment.

Betaal, played by a yogic Sunil Shankar is wicked and unapologetic, just like Betaali… the play. Shankar hinted at another run of the show as the cast took a final bow, but given how much he had bent the truth throughout his appearances in the play, we can’t really trust him. Write to NAPA now, and demand an encore run.

*Take a sip of chai with friends every time one of you can think of something no one likes talking about in Pakistan. The person who runs out of patience and tolerance or maybe simply has to run (to the toilet), loses. They must buy everyone another round of chai.

They say all art reflects the artist in bits, and Khan is no different. His views and cynicism about certain aspects of the world come through the plays he helms. His artistic signature has to be having different actors play the same character, and in Betaali’s case, the same actors play different characters. Khan has always used the stage to surrealistic advantage, and with his newest production, it is clear that he’s mastered this particular treatment.