Azad Theatre’s latest performance encapsulates the essence of stories and storytellers from the Punjab
Diwana-Bakaar-e-Khesh-Hoshiar was originally written as a radio play by Rafi Peerzada in Urdu, then translated into Punjabi and made into a stage play by his son Imran Peerzada. First performed in 2011, the play was staged for three days from January 6, at Alhamra in Lahore. The production was the outcome of a two-month theatre workshop conducted by Azad Theatre and directed by Nadeem Abbas, choreographed by Malik Aslam. Previous cast members such as Sarfaraz Ansari were also part of the re-staging.
Based on the initial radio drama, the script was instrumental in carrying various interpretations and staging methods; maturing through experimentations of stage, rather than just being heard on radio. Rafi Peerzada himself was a great proponent of Punjabi and wrote a number of plays in the language, the most outstanding being Akhiaan, which was also staged by the same group. Akhiaan was considered a classic, having been mounted a number of times over the decades, however similar the play in question, it has transformed due to its adaption from radio to stage. Radio was the medium which really fostered experimentation and invited leading writers to craft their sensibilities according to its requirements. Due to the commercialisation – injection of huge sums of money – stage and film were discouraged from too much experimentation.
The effort to revitalise the Punjabi language took off in the early 20th century. Urdu had occupied center-stage as a vernacular, but for scholars like Mohan Singh Diwana – the provincial mother tongue was the most significant tool to be used for solid cultural foundations. This emerging trend was brutally hit by the partition of Punjab along religious lines. It was assumed, or made to assume that Urdu was the language of Punjabi Muslims, as Punjabi itself was the language of Sikhs – thus creating cultural orphans out of Pakistani Punjabis. Since then, Punjabi Muslims have been trying to re-assert their legitimate parentage, against the foster parent offered by the country.
In our society – which has changed only for the worse – audiences can easily identify with various prevalent ills, and come to terms with them in the darkness of the theatre hall. The play particularly treated all in a light-hearted manner, and with laughter seen as therapeutic and put forth as possibly the best way to cope.
During production, Diwana-Bakaar-e-Khesh-Hoshiar was conceived as a comedy, and many situations were exaggerated to bring forth the comic element. Although the play was located in society’s challenges and peculiarities post-partition – it was obvious that its multi-layered, formal structure resonated much beyond that. In our society – which has changed only for the worse – audiences can easily identify with various prevalent ills, and come to terms with them in the darkness of the theatre hall. The play particularly treated all in a light-hearted manner, and laughter was seen as therapeutic and put forth as possibly the best way to cope.
Azad Theatre has been creatively exploiting some of the more patent technical particularities of our theatrical traditions and one of them has been dastaan-goi, which is deeply entrenched in regional folk culture. A mixture of dramatic rendition, poetical outburst and musical rendition form the medley of dastaan-goi as a performing art. These performances used to be an all-night affair, with audience members gathered informally around one or many narrators – relishing within stories, which were not all original but part of the well-known, repertoire of folk tales. Such commonality of sharing and knowing something beforehand, bound people together culturally.
This play too had a number of musical compositions and some were spoof on the popular music compositions. The previous productions too had been saddled with music renditions and as in the past the original compositions or those sung or rendered live were preferred over piped ones. In this production aswell, the piped numbers were many, but it all should have been sung or rendered live, no matter what the quality.
It is surprising, because the leading role – as it has been done many a time in the past – was being played by Sarfaraz Ansari, who is a good singer and can hold the note. In many of the past roles played for this group, and others his singing has been the most striking aspect of his performances and it was disappointing that he opted for some piped numbers or allowed the director to over-rule him.
Along wither Nadeem Abbas and Malik Aslam, these three have been the pillars of the group and ensured its sustainability. They keep switching between the roles of director, choreographer, actor and producers, as in the case with Diwana-Bakaar-e-Khesh-Hoshiar. Directing this very play in 2011, Aslam had focused on choreography, and designed movements, which were more dance like than ever. Raja Akhreem did the music and the cast included Bilal Ahmed. Mohammed Aim, Abdul Hanan, Amir Shahzad, Moiz Shahbaz, Faisal Mushtaq, Bilal Rai , Danish Chaudhry, Rahib Sewag and Jahanzad Mustafa.
The threatre group has been involved in producing Punjabi plays and focusing on historical or quasi-historical characters from the region, whose narratives have been twisted, and they are not considered heroes by people who have demonstrated a distorted bias for foreign invaders. Since most of the invaders were victorious, locals found greater solace in associating with conquerors than the conquered. There have been repeated calls to redress this skewed understanding of our past and our position in this part of the world, and Azad Theatre seems to have joined in too.