Play Yahudi ki Ladki tackles society’s prejudices

Play Yahudi ki Ladki tackles society’s prejudices

Set in ancient Rome, the play revolves around the Roman prince Marcus and his love for a beautiful Jewish girl Raheel.
18 Feb, 2017

It took a while for the audience to comprehend what was taking place on stage on Thursday, the opening night of Agha Hashr’s play Yahudi ki Ladki held at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa).

From the get-go there was too much of colour and embellishment, live singing, musical instruments, plenty of bosom heaving of lovers; too much of stimuli bombardment. For some that is what one hopes for in a theatrical presentation; not for others.

The play suffered from a lack of context to begin with. Directed by Khalid Ahmed, the play tries to take on an experimental form of mid-19th century Parsi theatre that harnesses melodramatic expressions, dialogue in verse and a comic element that transports the audience far away from the original play setting. And this is one battle the director and the production lose.

A live musical arrangement accompanies the narrative, and it is conflicting to match a romance set against the marbled structures of ancient Rome at one end of the stage and a tabla and harmonium performance on the other. And the confusion of sorts, either incidental or intentional, was a recurrent presence throughout the production.

Many among the audience were left baffled by the changing scenes, characters, narratives, and costumes, with togas in ancient Rome randomly being replaced by kurta pajamas and ghararas in a Pakhtun household.

Set in ancient Rome, Yahudi ki Ladki’s tragic set revolves around the Roman prince Marcus and his love for a beautiful Jewish girl Raheel. Considering the discrepancies in their social, and more importantly religious beliefs, Marcus pretends to be Jewish to win Raheel’s love, in which he is successful. Fawad Khan manages to do a decent interpretation of Marcus and he delivers the poetic lines, which are aplenty, with grace. However, Maria’s take on the beautiful Raheel is disappointing. She manages to come off as superficial, despite her being the tragic damsel whose fate hangs in the balance when Marcus is asked to choose between love and faith.

The abrupt entrance of the comedic narrative jarred the audience. All of a sudden the scene changes and takes the audience into the household of Sher Khan (Farhan Alam) and his wife Fitna (Zarqa Naz). Both consummate liars, and cuckolds, the back and forth between the two actors drew a few laughs from the audience.

Nazr-ul-Hasan’s performance as Ezra, Raheel’s father, is certainly the strongest among the entire cast, as a wronged father, and also angry at the suffering of his people. He warns those complicit in the religious persecution of his people to learn from the past and that their anti-Semitism may cause them to suffer instead.

This message is very pertinent in the current atmosphere in the country, with minorities regularly oppressed and innocent blood spilled for a rigid and tyrannical ideology. It is in the current climate that the performing arts need to step up but not compromise on the entertainment quality. And though Yahudi ki Ladki does make a statement with regards to critiquing society and its flaws, it needs improvement on other fronts.

The play will be staged at Napa till Feb 26.

Originally published in Dawn, February 18th, 2017