Peshawar gets back its cultural centre, as a revamped Nishtar Hall opens its doors

Published 06 Jun, 2016 09:00am

The provincial government banned cultural activities at the venue some 15 years ago

A man puts up a pottery display at the reopening ceremony of Nishtar Hall
A man puts up a pottery display at the reopening ceremony of Nishtar Hall

If anyone, who had seen the government owned only playhouse -- Nishtar Hall -- during the rule of Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal or later during the coalition government of Pakistan People’s Party and Awami National Party, there is a fair chance one would be stunned to see its new look.

For the first time in almost three decades the sole playhouse in the province has been renovated into an ornate colourful, well-equipped, air-conditioned purpose-built hall. The red curtains and gold-coloured carpeted flooring has completely changed the look. It almost looked like a French playhouse or any theatre one sees in Europe.

Nishtar Hall, inaugurated in 1988 by the then chief minister Arabab Jahangir Khan Khalil, has been an arena which was used for all kinds of religious, political and cultural gatherings during different governments in the province.

There was always a controversy over different kinds of activities and gatherings that were held in it. Some 15 years ago, a ban on any kind of so-called cultural activity was imposed by the provincial government after a performance went from bad to worse at Nishtar Hall. Since then, no government ever bothered to turn this place into a cultural hub or a playhouse to promote drama or theatre. Later, they used it for political and religious functions and seminars.

It is not only the hall itself, but the entrance, the waiting area, restrooms, and even changing rooms have completely had a makeover. Once a very shabby place, it has now a chic look.

Azam Khan, secretary tourism, culture and archaeology, told Dawn that Nishtar Hall was renovated and upgraded as it was needed since long.

“Peshawar, which has seen so much turmoil, needed a place where families could go and watch a play or a musical evening,” said Mr Khan. He added that very soon an animated version of a play of the famous Pashto folklore would be presented in Nishtar Hall.

Nishtar Hall was supposed to be renovated and upgraded under an ADP scheme with a cost of Rs80 million within 12 months but directorate of culture with the help of its in-house experts completed the work in just five months by spending only Rs35 million. The scope of work included sound-proofing, installation of 600 chairs, carpeting, sound system replacement, lighting system, overhauling of air-conditioning system, roof treatment, revolving stage and curtains, gallery renovation, distempering, washrooms and other such developmental works.

The directorate of culture opened the hall for public by holding a medley of cultural musical performances. The families enjoyed the event called “Rich Festival”.

The Revival of Indigenous Cultural Heritage, a programme to revive cultural activities in the 76 tehshils of 25 districts, culminated on the opening of Nishtar Hall over the weekend. The festival had fun-filled musical performances, cultural dances, skits, puppet shows for children and around 30 stalls which displayed the handicrafts and traditional foods.

Originally published in Dawn, June 6th, 2016