Theatre and culture

June 4, 2023

Most of the groups that produce stage plays draw their thespian language from the traditional or rural theatre

Theatre and culture


lhamra is continuing its tradition of holding theatre festivals. The most recent one, that concluded last week, was the twenty-sixth of its kind. The fact testifies to the consistency of approach and policy. It should be lauded and the organisation felicitated for it. One hopes that it will continue to be so.

There was a time when the staging of the plays was a rare occurrence. The breaks impeded the flow and the memory of the theatre developed lapses. It didn’t form a sizable storehouse that could be referred to. For any tradition to grow and flourish, consistency is a vital variable.

Primarily because of the stage being offered so regularly, many of the groups that stage plays have become familiar labels. Their work can therefore be seen in the light of their previous performances. This itself is a valuable asset that can be counted on for adding depth and fostering the development of an idiom that is our own. It also gives us the opportunity to assess and map the performance of a group and be in a position to make analytical observations based on data.

Most of the groups that staged plays this time, were not targetting the box office. Instead, they were trying to hold a mirror to the society, have drawn their thespian language from the traditional or rural theatre. These included songs and dances as well as the accompaniment of live music written in the style of our folk poetry and rendered in the forms that are popular and have a traditional back up repertoire of bandishes and bols.

There was a time when the rural life was considered simple and the villagers innocent - not corrupted by the ways of city life, seen to be rapacious, corrupt and unscrupulous. Often, the innocence was taken for naivety and exploited through manipulation. The wiles of urban existence were too subtle for the villagers to comprehend and they were often taken in for a ride. The two worlds were pitched against each other - one that was pristine and the other corrupt and driven by a lust for riches.

Alternatively, the trope was transferred on to the class division - between the rich and poor - within the urban existence. The poor were exploited: they were forced to sell themselves cheap for want of a better choice and the rich rapaciously took advantage of it.

Ajoka presented two productions – Mind Blowing and Bullha Tay Banda. The latter can be called an abridged version of their celebrated production based on the life and times of the leading poet Bulleh Shah.

It must be said that the love affair with Saadat Hasan Manto has continued. This festival, too, had two productions - one based on his life and his literary output and the challenges that he faced in upholding the truth Manto Say Miliye by Aks Theatre directed by Afzal Nabi; and a play based on the short story Hatak. The latter has been staged many a time in the past as well and has become a standard production item. This time round it was staged by Mass Production.

Azaad Theatre, too, has been quite regular with its productions. Their Kei Janaan Main Kaun was about a search for the true self in the light of the universal questions about one’s life and its purpose. Some students of the Punjab University staged Roshnai. For that the impetus came from Ahmed Bilal who took the initiative many years ago to engage students at his college in theatre productions.

Ajoka presented two productions – Mind Blowing and Bullha Tay Banda. The latter can be called an abridged version of their celebrated production based on the life and times of poet Bulleh Shah. The play contrasted the various points of view and the reason to go along all the way upholding a banner. The group is now represented by Nirwaan Nadeem and Sanawaar Iqbal. The more experienced Sarfaraz Ansari and Sibte Hasan follow in their lead as the group maneuvers to re-find its bearings. Baba Ji Tay Main was staged by Salamat Productions and Laali by Gift Theatre and Film Company. Nooran Theatre put up Aik Chaddar Maili Si; Tamseel Nagar Gudiyaan Patolay; and Chota Mota Theatre Yellow Heads.

The productions were more or less along the expected lines. A little more daring, especially in the direction and production, would have been most welcome. Falling back on the tradition of these plays and their style of production, the next step could be greater innovation in putting up the plays, breaking away from the chain of vocabulary that they have very painstakingly wrapped round themselves over the last three decades.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

Theatre and culture