New Delhi: When the play ‘Kaun Hai Ye Gustakh, was staged by Pakistani theatre group Ajoka in the capital on Wednesday night, it brought back some bitter memories for the city’s theatre lovers.
The play, based on noted Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, was cancelled by the National School of Drama (NSD) two years back owing to tension on the India-Pakistan border. The play was to have taken part in NSD’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav festival.
However, the director, Shahid Nadeem, is happy that this time, he staged it for a bigger audience. “The whole episode was emotional last time though Akshara theatre gave us a chance to stage the play after it got cancelled. We are happy that it was staged in a bigger auditorium this time,” Nadeem told IANS.
The play focuses on Manto’s life, works and events after his migration to Pakistan in 1949. The play is a part of the ongoing four-day ‘Humsaya’ Pakistani theatre festival organised by Ajoka in association with the NGO Routes2Roots.
The plays, which re-discover forgotten heroes such as Dara Shikoh, Manto and Bulle
Shah, were chosen for their message of peace and social relevance, said Nadeem, adding that cultural exchanges rather than political debates, between India and Pakistan help open up hearts.
“All the four plays convey message of peace and harmony. I hope it will help to soothe the climate of distrust and animosity in the sub-continent. Cultural exchanges can bypass prejudices without engaging in political debates,” he said.
If Manto’s struggle against extremism, censorship and his inner struggles were lapped up by the audience, “Bulla”, the play on the life and times of Sufi poet and humanist Bulle Shah, with its beautifully-rendered quwalis, received an overwhelming response.
Nadeem felt that Bulle Shah’s message on peace is pertinent to both India and Pakistan. “The play was received well here because Bulle Shah is relevant to the region. He opposed injustice and hypocrisy and challenged religious fundamentalists. More than a Sufi poet, he was a rebel of the times,” Nadeem added.
Founded in 1983, Ajoka had always challenged fanaticism and was instrumental in spreading the message of peace across the border through theatre. “Pakistan is facing religious extremism in all spheres of life. Through our plays, we always try to challenge this,” said Nadeem.
Describing the fatwa on music director A.R. Rahman by a Mumbai group as ridiculous, Nadeem felt that Islam needed urgent reforms and new thoughts. “Islam needs lot of reforms and new thoughts. In the name of the religion, politicians and individuals are trying to exploit people for their political interests,” he said.
Expressing concern over growing Hindu fundamentalism and threats to freedom of expression in India, the playwright said that India is catching up fast with Pakistan in religious extremism.
“India is fast catching up with Pakistan in religious terrorism. The way anti-Pakistani sentiments aroused by media and a section of people make our work difficult in Pakistan. We are trying to separate people’s position from government’s position,” he said.
The playwright added that for the last two years, a shift in the mindset of people in Pakistan was being witnessed. “Though the anti-India sentiments were waning for the last 15 years, suddenly, we are witnessing a resurgence. Peacemakers like us are seen as Indian stooges now,” he said.
However, Nadeem was hopeful that the secular forces in India can fight the evil of fanaticism. “It’s the duty secular forces to fight against the evil. I hope it’s a temporary phenomenon.”
The fourth and the last play, “Lo Phir Basant Aayi” will be staged on Thursday evening in Kamani auditorium.