At Pakistan Theatre Festival, the audience were treated to a selection of brilliant plays
he Pakistan Theatre Festival 2023, organised by the Arts Council of Pakistan-Karachi, started on September 8 and will go on for a month. The festival features a remarkable lineup of 45 shows and is set to host the participation of seven international theatre groups alongside 27 diverse theatre groups from across Pakistan.
Considered to be the biggest theatre festival in Pakistan, the ongoing affair features groups from seven countries with performances in Urdu, English, Sindhi, Sinhala, Punjabi, Turkish, German and Persian languages.
The plays tackle themes from all aspects of contemporary life.
I particularly loved the Punjabi play presented by the renowned Ajoka Theatre from Lahore. Anhi Mai Da Sufna was written and directed by Shahid Nadeem.
It was greatly applauded by the audience for its props and direction. The characters were essayed by Naseem Abbas, M Usman, Razia, Malik Qaiser, Usman Zia, Bilal Mughal, Shahzad Sadiq, Rizwan Riaz, Haifa Mudassar and Rania Mohsin. The story was pegged on addressing the human suffering and tragedy that arose in the aftermath of the 1947 partition.
Another play that hit the heartstrings was They both sit in silence for a while, featuring Ali Junejo and Rasti Farooq. The play was centred around family dynamics, reproductive choices and the dilemmas of a career-oriented woman stuck in a role – motherhood - that holds her back. It also touched upon mental health issues such as depression and how it is dismissed especially when men experience it. This was live theatre at its best: topical subjects, adventurous acting, dark satire, experimental forms and an engaged audience.
Dinner with darling was another performance that kept my eyes hooked to the stage. The farce was directed by Uzma Sabeen, a NAPA alumnus, and written by Babar Jamal.
Theatre entertains, educates and provokes – a much-needed mental workout for the burned-out Karachi populace.
Taleem-i-Balighan revived the memories of the comedy appreciated by the old and the young, for the past 60 years. Directed by Farhan Alam Siddiqui, the play was a tribute to the original writer, Khawaja Moinuddin. Insha ka Intezaar was a tragic comedy by the renowned theatre group Tehrik-i-Niswan, directed by Anwar Jafri. This play shows Pakistan’s steady descent into a wasteland where basic rights have eroded. The play Ken B Eniwan’s Story by Ruwanthie de Chickera from Sri Lanka focused on Ken as he navigates life’s milestones.
Then, there was acrobatic dance and movement in Waves, an enactment about a woman who has lost her husband in an accident. It is about the moments she relives after she hears the tragic news – the emotions, memories, fear and numbness. Because grief comes in waves, the imagery of waves was used to craft physical storytelling.
Since it was non-verbal, the performance allowed one to gestate the feelings on a more granular level.
By and large, the action in each play moved well, staging was effective and each play demanded a different set of sensibilities and warranted a separate thought process.
Pakistan needs theatre festivals to foster and celebrate its rich cultural tapestry.
Theatre entertains, educates and provokes. It is a much-needed mental workout for Karachi’s citizens. The ACP has raised the bar with the exercise. It is a great platform for emerging and established playwrights, directors, actors and artists to showcase their talents, share diverse narratives and engage with social issues. While they are at it, they also promote cultural exchange, strengthen the bonds of community and encourage artistic innovation.
In a country like Pakistan, where multiple traditions and contemporary voices coexist, such festivals serve as a vital bridge between the past and the present, allowing for a vibrant expression of stories that deserve to be heard and celebrated.
The writer is the head of content at a communications agency. email@example.com