It is good that after the barrenness of the Covid years, cultural activity is resuming with full force. There might be resistance to that in some pockets but, by and large, the people waiting for opportunities to be together are embracing the resumption
he twenty-fifth Theatre Festival organised by Alhamra was a testimony to the fact that it has been consistent in supporting the thespian arts in the city of Lahore. Most of the groups that took part in the festival are now familiar names and should be lauded for staging plays with a certain level of consistency. Mass Production, Salamat Productions, Aks Theatre, Nauratan Theatres, Theatrewalay Productions, Azad Theatre and Ajoka Theatre Institute took part in the week-long event to make it broad-based and representative of the theatre scene.
It is heartening to see that the Ajoka outfit is active in its pursuit of promoting theatre in the country. This has been its principal aim. It is coaching and training youngsters to join the effort. In the tradition of the repertory, the continuing production is part of a team effort that keeps in view both the education in the performing arts and its constant engagement with the process of production. Perhaps it is not advisable to separate the two as can happen in a purely academically-oriented institution. Two of its productions were part of the festival. Toba Tek Singh has been performed by them and others on quite a few occasions. Suicide Point was their second venture. It showed the determination of the group to keep their momentum - disrupted briefly by the passing away of its founder and the coronavirus pandemic.
It is good that after the barrenness of the Covid years, cultural activity is resuming with full force. There might be resistance to that in some pockets but, by and large, the people waiting for opportunities to be together are embracing the resumption.
This “continuity is something new. In the past many groups were formed but after a performance or two disappeared into the shadows and were not heard of again. These performances were good and the group(s) held promise but the lack of will and the effort led to their fritting away. Some emerged temporarily in some other productions but many with promise were not heard or seen again.
Book of Love by Mass Productions was perhaps the most experimental productions in the festival. It was a welcome relief because quite a few productions in the name of being relevant become too trapped in the predictability of realism. Realism is, of course, not a depiction of reality but only a form where things appear to be as they are while the way the characters are made and their interaction with events and situations with the plot are supplied by the imagination of the playwright. But the realism as a formal structure and depiction of reality are sometimes mistaken for each other and produce something that is quite inane.
Azad Theatre have continued with their mission of either producing plays in Punjabi or about characters that have a folk, historical construct. It is an effort at building up the cultural profile of the region that is quite confused often drawing more from the fictional depictions and less from historical evidence.
Totaanwala Khoo was an engaging production that kept the audience initially attentive and then inquisitive about the content of the production. Rahay Na Koi Naghmagar Salamat by Salamat Productions and Lahoo Rung Hai Waadi by Nauratan Theatre were also productions that tethered on realism. Theatrewalay Productions weighed in with a lighter version or a lighter vein in Main Aik Mian Hoon , a satirical take on the changing aspects that human relationships and institutions are facing or encountering, without being too weary about it treating it as a problem that will be resolved as we go along without any revolutionary intervention. Its second production, Marhoom Ki Yaad Main was in a similar vein.
Aks Theatre presented its Zindagi Kahani based on Alok Kumar’s writings that inspired the viewers to beautify the society. Alhamra also offers its halls and theatres for commercial plays which pay well and can be a bonanza for the producers but Alhamra is just one of the venues while there are many other in the private sector. There has been a consistent argument that Alhamra should dedicate itself to plays or cultural activity which is not meant to cater to popular taste. The demand is supposed by many who want it to be more representative of what is not driven by the lure of profit.
Keeping in view the argument, Alhamra has adopted a policy that is catering to meet both ends - those that do not shy away from making a little bit of money and those for whom money should not be tied to the promotion of culture. This is a debate in which there are merits on both sides and no definite answers. In the days of shrinking budgets Alhamra is being prudent in keeping an even-handed policy.
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore