The second edition of the National Academy of Performing Arts’ (Napa) Laughter Fest began on Thursday night with a play titled Haye Muhabbat.

To be honest, it was not a bad effort. It had its moments. But one is not sure if it was worthy enough to start an 11-day-long festival with.

The tightrope that a theatre director walks in putting together a dialogue-driven drama is to know at what stage or till what time the use of funny words –– innuendo, repartee, punch line –– will become predictable for the audience. Mind you, the interest of those who had packed the Zia Mohyeddin auditorium on Thursday did not waver too much. Still, there were many a moment where ‘laughter’, the USP of the fest, appeared to be a rare commodity. And the actors hadn’t brought their A-game, either.

Written by Babar Jamal and directed by Uzma Sabeen, Haye Muhabbat tells the tale of Kashi (Samhan Ghazi), a forty-something man leading a loveless life. When the play begins he dials a number from his (landline) telephone (whose short handset cord was causing the actor trouble and a lapse in concentration) to try his luck one last time. He finds Neelofar (Zarqa Naz) at the other end. She is in her thirties and is also looking for someone to have a romantic relationship with. After a bit of a whacky conversation, they decide to meet at a restaurant. To his surprise, when he reaches the restaurant, he finds out that Neelofar has brought along her mother (Shumaila Taj). This gives away the mental state of Neelofar to Kashi, and instead of him following her, she starts to stalk him, trying to persuade him to get married to her.

Her dodgy intent is further highlighted when, while visiting his house for the first time, her mamoo (Hammad Khan) tags along to sort out some legal stuff. All of this drives Kashi up the wall. And yet, he can’t do anything about it. The girl is pushier than he initially thought she was.

Haye Muhabbat heavily relies on the conversations between its male and female protagonists. It works, although in patches. Zarqa Naz plays a talkative character. Unfortunately, her loquaciousness as Neelofar made her say her lines with such rapidity that it was often difficult to understand the tone of her voice. On the other hand, Shumaila Taj as her mother and therapist had a voice-projection issue, which is strange, because both the girls have a reasonable wealth of experience as theatre artists.

One has mentioned this because one has seen all these individuals grow as artists in recent years. They are competent. But who can dodge a lean patch?

Originally published in Dawn, January 12th, 2019