Nishtar Hall came alive with Tegrra ki Tegrra, a funny Urdu play with a serious message
n Urdu comedy, Tegrra Ki Tegrra, was staged at the Nishtar Hall, in the last week of April. The event organised by the Peshawar chapter of the Abasin Arts Council (AAC) made for a welcome segue into summer. It was attended by people from all walks of life.
Written and directed by poet Aziz Ejaz, a former PTV producer, the play sought to pay tribute to the sacrifices performers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have to make to pursue their craft and keep their culture alive.
It featured the struggles of artists amidst philistinism, one of the many spillovers of militancy as well as unfavourable conditions and a lack of resources. It was against this backdrop that the various characters, with their undying commitment to promoting art, faced bizarre queries about their choices. These exchanges took place in a light-hearted way on stage, making the Nishtar Hall reverberate with giggles.
Founded in 1964, the Abasin Arts Council-Peshawar has made only limited contributions in terms of its designated tasks including the promotion of literature, painting, drama and music since the 1980s. Shortage of funds has remained a major hurdle in the way of the council. The deteriorating law and order situation in the city was also a cause of concern.
The Nishtar Hall was established in 1985 with a capacity for 600 people to promote art and culture in the provincial capital. Much like the art scene in Peshawar, the hall was affected by the militancy. It had to shut down for eight years before it was reopened in 2005.
Pulling off a production like Tegrra Ki Tegrra is a welcome feat. The organising committee invited local artists and performers to come forward and revive the theatre in Peshawar. Despite minimal publicity and budget constraints, the council heard back from the local artists.
Within less than a week, the cast and the production team had arrived at Nishtar Hall for a rehearsal. The very next day, the first show of the comedy was staged.
Spanning over an hour, the play featured the stories of performers dwelling in a society that assigns little to no importance to art. It showed these characters being ridiculed and taken for granted by those involved in dishonest or harmful practices including drug peddling.
The cast included seasoned TV artists Ishrat Abbas, Suhail Asad, Khalid Khattak, Rubi, Nehyia, Ahmad Sajjad, Tahir Qureshi, Uzair Sherpao, Haresh, Salim Shauq, Shahid Sherani, Sidra Ali and Mukhtar Ahmad.
It was a bit of a challenge to pull off a production in such a short time but since most of the performers had already worked under Aziz Ejaz at the PTV, there was a remarkable sync between the direction and the acting.
Rubi and Nehyia, two of the cast members, said that they had not expected their live performance to have such an impact on the audience. They said the credit belonged to Aziz Ejaz, the scriptwriter and director.
The artistes said that pulling off a stage play in front of such a large audience was quite challenging but the easy-to-understand script and the warm environment had helped them ease into their roles and entertain the audience.
As the curtain rose, the anticipation in the hall was palpable. The first act went well and the audience rolled with peals of laughter. The performance kept an eager and entertainment-starved audience tethered to their seats. The performers were rewarded with a standing ovation, generous applause and occasional bursts of laughter.
Aziz Ejaz told TNS that doing theatre was a truly wonderful experience. “We can revive Peshawar Live Theatre if we are provided funds,” he said.
Speaking about how he put together Tegrra Ki Tegrra, the director said that he had reached out to some of the people he knew who motivated the PTV artists to collaborate for the production. “It was all done in a haste,” admitted Ejaz. “Still we received an overwhelmingly positive feedback. The production was successful in attracting an audience,” he added.
Discussing his plans for the future, Ejaz said that if not for the lack of funding, Tegrra Ki Tegrra could be made into a long serial. “I want to introduce more young performers and focus on the social issues being faced by the people,” he said.
Prof Nasir Ali Syed, the AAC vice president, commented, “Live theatre was long due in Peshawar. However, we did not have enough funds to pull off a production on this scale.”
Appreciating the artists who signed up for their roles, he said, “Tegrra Ki Tegrra was made possible only because of the time and contribution of local artists who agreed to act in it despite the meagre payments.”
“There is no dearth of talent and creative ideas in the KP,” said Syed, “we only need resources to channelise those.” Syed also called on the authorities to focus on the promotion of culture in the KP and disburse adequate funds to revive performing and visual arts.
Ishrat Abbas, a senior television actor, said that live Urdu theatre always motivated the audience and should be supported. “Peshawar has a long history of roving theatre. Some of the most outstanding performers hail from this city,” he said. “The local performers are very talented. They have the potential to pull off any act on stage,” added the actor.
Risham Khan, a housewife who attended the event with her family, told TNS that it was a fun-filled family drama with a serious lesson for the audience. “I enjoyed the performance and so did my children,” she said. “The Nishtar Hall was all lit up and filled with laughter after a very long time,” expressed Khan.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets @Shinwar-9