Dheti Deewarain is an adaptation of Russian playwright Maxim Gorky’s Philistines. Here, Teterev sits at the table with Vassily and Akulina.— Photo by Hussain Ali
Dheti Deewarain is an adaptation of Russian playwright Maxim Gorky’s Philistines. Here, Teterev sits at the table with Vassily and Akulina.— Photo by Hussain Ali

Theatre-goers have been waiting for this: namely Dheti Deewarain, a play directed by veteran thespian Zia Mohyeddin.

Dheti Deewarain is an adaptation of Russian playwright Maxim Gorky’s Philistines. Gorky was an activist who wrote against the Tsars and was later celebrated by socialist leaders after he returned from exile.

With Khalid Ahmed, Naila Jafri, Ali Rizvi, Paras Masroor, Shabana Hasan, Nazrul Hasan and Maisam Naqvi in lead roles, Dheti Deewarain explores the power struggles in a middle class society amidst a possible revolution.

Of tyrannical figures and revolution:

Set in 1902, the play revolves around a family which includes a tyrannical and miserly father, Vassily Vassily Vich (Khalid Ahmed), his timid wife Akulina (Shumaila Taj), his daughter, Tania (Shabana Hasan), son Peter (Ali Rizvi) and an adopted son Neil (Paras Masroor).

Vasiily, who excises his control over his family through strict commands, dreams of becoming the mayor and is greatly perturbed by Tania’s singlehood and Peter’s fascination with the revolution.

Suspended from university on grounds of his alleged involvement in the rebellion, Peter is resentful of his life and spends most of his time with Elena (Naila Jaffri), a beautiful widow who lives as a tenant in their house.

Tania, who is in love with Neil, decides to poison herself after Neil proposes to Polya (Maha Ali), their domestic servant and daughter of a drunkard, Perchikin (Maisam Naqvi).

Vassily feels bitter about the misery given to him by his children. — Photo by Hussain Ali
Vassily feels bitter about the misery given to him by his children. — Photo by Hussain Ali

While Peter is still not ready to walk the talk with respect to revolutionary measures, Neil doesn’t miss a chance to get back at his master and believes in changing the system by not only being vocal but by actually doing something.

Tanya eavesdropping as Neil and Polya profess their love for each other. — Photo by Hussain Ali
Tanya eavesdropping as Neil and Polya profess their love for each other. — Photo by Hussain Ali

His decision to marry Polya and leave the house comes from his determination to break the shackles of this society as Vassily treats him like private property and berates him with acerbic references to his upbringing.

Mirroring reality through comic relief:

Frequent appearances by Perchikin and another tenant, Teterev (Nazrul Hasan), who is a musician, add much-needed humour, and are a way for the family (and audience!) to get a reprieve from constant allusions to misery and monotony.

Perchikin shares the wonders of catching beautiful sparrows. — Photo by Hussain Ali
Perchikin shares the wonders of catching beautiful sparrows. — Photo by Hussain Ali

From constant bickering about Tanya’s marriage to his panic about Peter, Vassily, who claims to be a concerned father, keeps widening the generation gap by pushing his children away.

Peter wonders aloud whether the words “my Russia” resonate with him or not; he chooses to believe in the idealism taught in books and secretly wishes to become the part of the system.

With Perchikin’s view that ‘aged people are the most foolish ones and resemble an old tree set on fire, producing more smoke and less flames’, the play establishes that for long-lasting healthy relationships, the older generation needs to relinquish control of the younger one.

A scene from Dheti Deewarain where Vassily shows contempt toward Neil and Polya's relationship. — Photo by Hussain Ali
A scene from Dheti Deewarain where Vassily shows contempt toward Neil and Polya's relationship. — Photo by Hussain Ali

We need change, but we can't have it?

Dheti Deewarain is, of course, an apt play for Pakistan, where a desire to change the system is tempered by fear of upsetting the status quo.

It can be said that anyone who dreads turbulence, even if it means more justice, is just another Vassily who can’t accept the thought that ownership is transferable and that money doesn’t define everything. Although the play was staged over 100 years ago, it appears that the reformation in our part of the world is miles away from where it started its journey.

Neil argues with his adoptive father Vassily. — Photo by Hussain Ali
Neil argues with his adoptive father Vassily. — Photo by Hussain Ali

Dheti Deewarain for the actors:

Veteran actor Khalid Ahmed was critical of the lack of change and evolution we see in the Pakistani system and said: “It is strongly resisting change, so the whole thing is about change versus status quo. That is what the play is about therefore it is recommended in any society which is in a transition; except that in 1902 Russia, change was really in the air. Here, we’re only hoping for it and getting disappointed.”

Tanya lies unwell after her intake of poison. — Photo by Hussain Ali
Tanya lies unwell after her intake of poison. — Photo by Hussain Ali

Commenting on whether young people take only superficial stands, Ali Rizvi said his character was a depiction of such a group: “Peter would follow the steps of his father as he doesn’t have the courage to challenge the hegemony. Using the fourth wall, Gorky creates an illusion for the spectators as if they are sneakily watching a family going through their life.”

Hailing from the first batch of NAPA, Ali took pride in being the part of Zia Moheyudin’s direction:

Peter with Elena. — Photo by Hussain Ali
Peter with Elena. — Photo by Hussain Ali

“I really enjoyed working on this because one it was by Zia sahib, and secondly because it is not just a classic — it uses naturalist elements as well, making it one of its kind.”

Nazrul Hasan shared that he could relate to the play because he himself has been in Teterev’s shoes:

“Initially I tried really hard and the world seemed bleak to me, I was a student at a government school and it seemed as if all my prospects were blocked. I was exasperated and wanted a way out so I kept struggling to stand where I am today.”

The actors take a bow. — Photo by Hussain Ali
The actors take a bow. — Photo by Hussain Ali

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