Role reversal

March 22, 2020

The Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s play Ab Nahi, held in schools across Punjab, served the age-old purpose of arts of creating awareness about improving the lot of humankind

A scene form Ab Nahi.

In the past month or so the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop has been staging both stage and puppet plays at various venues in the Punjab.

The play Ab Nahi was a remarkably focused thespian attempt at highlighting the issue of gender discrimination all over the world, particularly in reference to our society. The puppet play was on the issue of early marriage.

The play may have had an obvious focus but it was not reduced to a single issue. Of course there is a lot in our society, as indeed in all societies, that tends to strengthen discrimination or provide a justification for discrimination on other grounds. Artistes have always carried and nourished the dream for a more equitable order in the society as indeed the world. To many, the arts can be a medium to address the issue in a more frontal manner.

Theatre, here, was specifically used for the purpose of instruction. Many have scouted the purpose of art over the ages, and some have come to firmly believe that it can help in creating awareness about improving the lot of humankind, and it appears that the attempt by its director Usman Peerzada was aimed in the same direction.

Written by Mohammed Maqsood, the stage play was performed mostly at the various educational institutions in the Punjab, where theatre can be more narrowly focused on its instructional usefulness.

The University of Lahore, the Quaid-e-Azam University at Islamabad, the Fatima Jinnah University at Rawalpindi, the University of Gujrat and Government College of Women University at Sialkot were some of the venues. It was also performed at the children’s festival at the Children’s Library Complex, Lahore, where it was highly appreciated by the young audience.

One way of being more effective, especially if the purpose is to instruct — and particularly the young — is to engage the audiences. And what better way can there be than participating in a discussion after the play on the action in the play, the various characters and the way the resolution has been arrived at. From being passive recipients of a message, the audience suddenly also become its participants if not the actors themselves — thus having a role in what goes on stage and to be the reason for a change.

This technique has been used by thespians all over the world, especially those who have had faith in theatre being an instrument of creating doubt, and the provocative source of thinking and questioning. This has been used to raise awareness about social issues. At times, it has also been linked with its political dimension. It is then seen more in its political context than in its social one, but Ab Nahi was only focused on its social dimension and the larger canvas was not brought into play. Probably this was the best way, as the narrowing of the scope and cutting down on ambition made it more precise than spreading it too thin.

In societies like Pakistan, theatre or the performing arts are also seen as convenient vehicles of carrying a message because a large number of people are not literate and thus cannot read or write. To see is [or was] to believe, and it was a means of reaching out to people particularly the masses as they were drawn in by the artistic component and input. But this was not the case in these ventures as the audiences were supposed to be young and impressionable still in the process of formulating their thoughts and coming to grips with the ability to think for themselves.

The puppet play was held at Smart School, Rawalpindi, CLF, Lahore, Fauji Foundation School, Sialkot, Mehsun Foundation, Gujrat, Allied School System, Jhelum and Allama Iqbal School, Kasur.

The cast of the play Ab Nahi included Sarfaraz Hussain, Suleman Afzal, Zohaib Haider, Malika Peerzada, Aasiya Hameed Butt, Aneela Shahzaad, Hameed Butt, Mushtaq Sindhi, Mohammed Hassan Kamal and Uzma Butt.

The Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop has been working tirelessly to hold festivals, international and national on performing arts, puppetry, music and dance. It has also been very active in promoting such talent among the youth, and has been responsible for promoting youth festivals spanning nearly all the major mediums of expression.

Role reversal: Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s play Ab Nahi serves age-old purpose