May Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Published 12 years ago

Anwar Maqsood had never written for theatre before Pawnay 14 August, but the determination of young director, Dawar Mehmood, convinced him to pen a story for the stage. While some people may find Anwar sahib’s wit dry and lacklustre, his script veered into several moments of hilarity. It was humorous political satire that took digs at the whole gamut of Pakistan’s 65-year history, from the trivial to the consequential, in one fell swoop. This resonated hugely with the local audience — ever-ready to explore an increasingly dysfunctional Pakistan — and KopyKats Productions theatrical venture ran for weeks to a packed hall. On the last few days, Karachiites ran helter-skelter to purchase the pretty steep ticket — a mean Rs 1500. People agreed to sit on the steps, on the floor and in front of the stage at the Arts Council auditorium. To keep them happy despite the irregular and tight seating arrangements, and to maintain calm while everyone waited for the curtain to go up, director Dawar Mehmood did some bizarre but very good impersonations — his Al Pacino and religious guru, Zakir Naik, were spot on. Anwar Maqsood also appeared briefly to introduce the play and after a few self-effacing sentences, where he only took credit for writing the script, he launched into a long joke featuring Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Allama Iqbal and Benazir Bhutto, who meet various dead luminaries in heaven .

Pawnay 14 August is also about dead luminaries — a one-act play set in the waiting lounge of Karachi airport. The time is now and the Quaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal and Maulana Shaukat Ali (played convincingly by Aamer Agha) are on a visit to Pakistan. After stopping in Karachi, the first leg of their visit, they are proceeding to Lahore and Islamabad, and since their seats are on chance, they may be stuck in real-time hell —a sterile airport lounge, aptly depicted in the bland stage set. Several people saunter in to encounter the spirits (what else could they be?), but unfortunately no one recognises them. Already heartbroken at the condition of present-day Karachi, the leaders find this additional snub quite unbearable: Iqbal sits melancholic in his signature pose, while the Quaid stands ramrod straight looking quite wrecked. The Maulana, in the meantime, finds it easier to chit-chat with the people who walk into the lounge. The playwright employs a simple formula. Present-day Pakistan, symbolically represented as the airport lounge, is a like a modern-day dystopia. Besides the three focal characters, the rest of the supporting cast represents someone — from the hedonistic governing class, the proletariat, an ethnic group and a political party. Enter a Bengali, a Punjabi, a Pathan, a Mohajir, a Sindhi, an army officer, a PTI supporter (Nimra Nagy as a single, young, female Imran fan is truly funny), a PML-N supporter, a PPP supporter, a PIA employee, and so on.

While each character is absolutely true to type, there is nothing very original that anyone says. Such characters we’ve already seen time and again on television in some of the funniest Urdu and English satirical comedy shows we know so well. But yet they manage to evoke laughter, like when a young girl asks the Quaid for his autograph, he is thrilled, and when she is asked if she knows who he is, she smiles ecstatically and says, “Christopher Lee.” Similarly, Maulana Shaukat Ali is presented a CD-set of Pakistani folk music of the folk singer, Shaukat Ali. Pakistanis, it seems, are devoid of historical memory and this lament is consistently screamed out throughout the play.

While the fathers of the nation trip into nostalgic melancholia — this wasn’t the Pakistan they had left behind; no one understands their poetry; no one understands the premise of the Pakistan resolution etc.etc — the scriptwriter does not fall into the trap of providing a denouement that resolves the conundrum. The spirits depart woefully, after a tearful rendition of the national anthem, leaving behind a circus of clowns in their place.

This review was originally published in the May issue of Newsline under the headline “The Light Side of Dark.”

The writer is a former assistant editor at Newsline