June Issue 2013

By | Theatre | Published 11 years ago

In Pakistani comedy, there is no shortage of family drama. Stage theatres center on the same oft-beaten characters: the bitter old mother, the short-tempered housewife and the tharki uncle. ArtTainment Productions’ second theatrical effort, Dhaani, picks up on these characters, but also attempts something different. Playwrights Imrana Maqsood and Amra Alam present a heartwarming story of two lower middle class women and their quintessential love/hate relationship. What ensues is not so much of a household drama, but rather a comical depiction of their personal bond.

Ruqaiyah Jahan (Sanam Saeed) and Rasheeda Fatimah (Sarwat Gilani) are two aggressive, loud-mouthed neighbours whose relationship sustains on gossip sessions, asking each other for sugar and lassan and a series of clever tongue-lashings. A low wall splits their shared house evenly into two. It separates them, but also serves as a battlefront for their verbal showdowns. To the audience’s relief, their great confrontations are alternated with episodes of truce, where the two sit down, albeit briefly, to share their joys and sorrows over chai and fashion show reruns.

Enter the rest of the family: Rasheeda’s hardworking husband (Umar Sultan), her irritable Amma (Sundus Tariq) and daughter Munni (Hooria). On the other side of the house are Chacha Fayaz-ud-Din (Kamal Hussain), a lascivious old man who has his sights set on Rasheeda’s mother, and Ruqaiyah’s troublesome son, Babloo (Shahzeb). The primary concerns in Ruqaiyah’s life are her social status and a “Frock waali ma’am” who, Rasheeda alleges, is having an affair with Ruqaiyah’s husband.

Sadly, little happens in terms of the plot aside from the constant bickering and clever retorts, resulting in a simplistic, overdone pattern: The two gossip, start bickering and all hell breaks loose. Husbands are ignored and food is burnt, and then patch-ups arranged. If the audience remains transfixed, it is only because of Saeed and Gilani’powerful acting. The actresses are powerhouses on stage, salvaging a show that doesn’t have much of a storyline holding it in place. The duo has to be commended, especially for their fantastic improvisation during a power failure. “Naya Pakistan aana tha,” comments Gilani’s character, quickly adding, “Punjab mayn aa gaya, yahaan se leh gaaye!” Saeed’s character, ignoring her, goes on to assert her social status with a condescending “Babloo ke Abba, zara UPS toh chalaa deyn!” The remaining cast, too, does not disappoint and if audience applause is anything to go by, Hussain in particular stole the show.

Director Umar Sultan of Pawnay 14 August fame gets props for more than just powerful casting; he has also craftily woven two dance sequences into the play. Saeed and Gilani take the stage for solo performances that bring the otherwise worn-out events of the story to life, with a song about home and belonging as the backdrop to Rasheeda’s performance, and one on betrayal for Ruqaiyah. In between their daily shenanigans, these performances remind us of the characters’ internal struggles. Were it not for the theatrical impact of the dances and the cast’s laudable delivery of Maqsood’s and Alam’s dialogue, the show would have had little to offer.

Despite its shortcomings, Dhaani, produced by the superstar Shaan , continues to sell out each night.

As Sultan assured the packed audience that only 500 tickets had been issued, a gentleman humorously yelled out “Dhaandli!” which proved to be the first of many political references that night. Dhaani’s dialogue was replete with allusions to current affairs (“Osama bin Laden mil jaye ga laykin shakkar nahi!”), the recent elections (“Dharna laga ke baith jaayein?”) and pop culture (a cursory mention of Sahir Lodhi).

Additionally, the director mentioned that the wall can be seen as a metaphor for Partition. To carry the metaphor to its literal completion, one of the two families is meant to have migrated from India, but nowhere in the dialogue or story does that become evident.

In the end, politics and satire — as relevant as they are — are not the parting message of the play. Dhaani is, and this is at the core of its success, a play about two women, their friendship and their shared disasters. It is a celebration of the reality that come what may, we will always find solace in the company of the familiar.