It was befitting on the part of the Arts Council to dedicate its first Awami Theatre Festival to the council’s treasurer Shahnaz Siddiqui who passed away on April 13 because he himself was a renowned commercial theatre producer with plays such as the extremely popular Bakra Qiston Per to his credit.
It should also be appreciated that the council dedicated the event to the late Moin Akhtar too, who, among other things, was known for his successful stints on awami stage.
However, it’s high time that the Arts Council revisited its strategy of having high-profile chief guests to inaugurate its events. For example, on Monday, provincial Information Minister Syed Nasir Husain Shah was supposed to declare the festival open. But he did not turn up (at least till the time the play had begun).
This meant that the audience, which packed the open-air auditorium in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, waited for the minister to arrive for two hours. Yes, the council’s president Ahmed Shah later on said that what mattered to him was the audience and not the chief guests, but by that time it had already been quite late; and the weather was not friendly either. The awam sat there patiently, though, waiting for the fun to begin.
The play that was staged on the first day of the festival was titled Munda Bigri Jaey written and directed by Rauf Lala. One assumes that since the drama started a little late, the director didn’t have enough time to check the sound system. So, when the curtains went up and the first scene unfolded, the microphones weren’t properly working because of which the actors had to repeat their lines. This made the audience heckle the performers a bit.
The play features the character of Ghulam (played by the senior artist Shakil Siddiqui) at its centre. He has just got married. His father (Rauf Lala) and mother (Naima Garaj, who received a generous applause when she appeared on stage) are worried about their daughter-in-law’s behaviour. And they’re not wrong.
The play, as it is always in the case of such ventures, is replete with sharp and witty one-liners and rib-tickling repartee. It reminded one of the good old days of Karachi when the brilliant Umar Sharif used to rule awami theatre. Speaking of which, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the organisers to invite Sharif to close the festival on April 28.
Originally published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018