The layered theatre production by Bee Gul and Khalid Ahmed will be available for streaming later this month.
The pendulum swings for performing arts
Artists from various fields of the performing arts have chosen to go online to present their content as new variants of Covid-19 pandemic are still emerging and devastating lives in Pakistan and around the globe. To that end, Kal Agar Main Marjaun (If I Die Tomorrow), a one-act play, staged as a product of Vasl Artists’ Association’s Multidisciplinary Residency Program, is going digital. The move makes theatre accessible to a restless audience without threatening anyone’s wellbeing.
A layered, abstract and experimental piece of storytelling, the theatre production will be streamed online on Facebook Live in lieu of staging it before an audience. The original plan was to host live performances, scheduled to be held at Getz Pharma Auditorium as well as Arts Council of Pakistan. But they were cancelled and shelved for a later period amidst the sudden lockdown announced in August by the Sindh Government.
However, embracing the digital platform after the unfortunate cancellation, the Vasl production team did manage to stage a discreet performance at the Getz Pharma Auditorium for filming purposes, allowing select press and media to cover the performance in order to get the word out. They did so in compliance with Government-issued SOPs and safety measures against Covid-19.
Theatre fans can head to Vasl’s official Facebook page to find out more about this production as we all learn to embrace the power of theatre even in times of both a national and global crisis, as well as growing dependency on digital platforms.
The play itself will be streamed from 7pm to 8pm and will be followed by a talk with core cast and crew members of the production from 8pm to 9pm, hosted by the organizers. The discussion panel will include Bee Gul (playwright), Khalid Ahmed (director), Nazar-Ul-Hassan (actor) and Aisha Nadir Ali (vocalist) as an added bonus.
Is it worth your time?
The hour long one-act play is a textured, abstract and experimental piece of storytelling, and a product of the Vasl Artists’ Association’s Multidisciplinary Residency Program. It is a must watch for anyone interested in performing arts with this theatre production showcasing important social issues. Featuring a multitude of languages, including Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi, it also incorporates poetry from renowned bards of yore, such as Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Majaz Lakhnawi and Sahir Ludhianvi. While the play’s title is inspired from reclusive, renowned and virtuoso poet Emily Dickinson’s famous poem: ‘If I should Die’, the narrative also incorporates the Urdu translation of the poem in verse which is recited live. Indeed, it is a treat to watch a play especially when it is written by an acclaimed writer like Bee Gul and directed by thespian Khalid Ahmed.
Starring National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) graduates Nazar Ul Hassan, Tariq Raja and Ifrah Khalid, Kal Agar Main Marjaun touches upon themes like life, death, suicide and childhood traumas that manifest into adulthood. It explores existential metaphors, poignantly expressed through poetry, music, dance and rhythmic dialogue.
However, Kal Agar Main Marjaun is not flawless. It can seem slightly disjointed to a first-time viewer. Irrespective of the effort that went into Kal Agar Main Marjaun, it can feel cluttered because it brings too many distinct and myriad art forms like poetry (in different languages), live vocal music, dance, instrumentalists, fine arts and folklore together as one holistic narrative. This concoction can be a tad overwhelming for a viewer. Having said that, it could plausibly be a result of the brief period in which the many components had to come together during the two week residency program.
Kal Agar Main Marjaun begins with the interesting premise such as drinking water being stolen as though it were a coveted object. The narrative interweaves important questions on the passage of time, equating time itself to death as each moment passes. The play seems to focus on the clashing of two different ideologies embodied by Tariq Raja (Naujawaan) and Nazar Ul Hassan’s character (Bhoora). One wants to stay stuck in time and one wants to race against time to the future.
Actor Tariq Raja, who essays the role of Naujawaan, notes that the play begins with his character stating his perception of life and death as two different realms.
“Life as something to be celebrated and death as something to mourn about but towards the end of the narrative, Naujawaan is exposed to the realization that life and death are actually two sides of the same coin,” Raja explains. “The broader spectrum of life as whole has nothing to do with death; death is essentially life transforming to a new form; dying is as beautiful as living.”
Watch out for a key self-reflective moment in the play where Naujawaan echoes what runs on loop in almost every middle-class, urban, working millennial’s mind: “What do I do with this compromised life? Have sex? Raise kids? Wear a tie and live a lie? Succumb to a life that subscribes to society’s superficial norms?”
The evocative scenes between Naujawaan and Bhoora (played by Nazar-Ul-Hassan) will definitely leave you questioning and comprehending your own life, death, childhood and existence. The performances by the central characters are essentially engaging and thought-provoking. Lighting design by Fraz Chotani, and an abstract, presentational set design juxtaposed against the handmade backdrop of a painting by a group of artists, complements the blocking of the actors.
You can follow the Vasl Instagram page for more updates on the play and the upcoming post-performance discussion with the cast and crew. Naila Mehmood, co-director at Vasl, is hopeful that the play will eventually be staged for live audiences, as initially planned, once restrictions are relaxed and artistic and cultural activities can be resumed on a steady basis.
The decision to release the Kal Agar Main Marjaun digitally has been taken assuming that this year, all live performances and mass in-person gatherings for the performing arts seem to be on a standstill because of the pandemic still looming large in the country.
The future of theatre and performing arts on the whole seems bleak given the recent setbacks faced by performing arts forms. The Annual Comedy Theatre Festival held at the National Academy of Performing Arts was staged only to be filmed for digital release. There has been no theatre or music activity at NAPA for public viewing since the first lockdown in March 2020. Recently, the Karachi Theatre Festival to be organized and held this year at the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi was also postponed indefinitely owing to Covid-19 restrictions. This then begs the question, what is the post-Covid future of live performing arts and artists alike in theatre, music and dance? The coming months will hopefully provide a concrete answer.
As for the play, this isn’t the first collaboration between Khalid Ahmad and Bee Gul. The duo collaborated last year for another one-act masterpiece titled Bedroom Conversations that had been staged at NAPA and the Karachi Theatre Festival at the Arts Council in 2020. It received immense appreciation from critics and audiences alike.
Bee Gul, who has written for all mass media including film, television and the web, admits that writing for the stage is one of the most liberating experiences in her career, and theatre remains her favourite medium as a writer.
– Afreen is a creative writer and multimedia professional with special interests in Film, TV, Performing Arts and Pop Culture.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Photography by Sawant Shah