Perhaps the English equivalent of the oft-used Urdu idiom naach na jaane aangan terha is: a bad workman blames his tools.
Writer Anwar Maqsood’s TV series Aangan Terha that went on air in the 1980s remains, to date, his finest work in terms of episodic projects. Its marked feature was a plausible plot, sparkling dialogue and masterful acting by the likes of Shakil, Bushra Ansari, Arshad Mahmud, Durdana Butt and the late Salim Nasir who played Mahboob’s (Shakil) and Ansari’s (Jahan Ara) effeminate and extremely witty servant, Akbar.
One had expected on Tuesday evening that the makers of the stage play Naach Na Jaane that’s being called ‘a prequel’ to the TV series, directed by Dawar Mehmood for the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi, would keep all of those things in mind while putting it together. Well, one is not entirely sure.
Let’s not be cynical and talk about the positives first. The show is funny. Really funny. Some of the lines uttered by Yasir Hussain (who is playing the pivotal part of Akbar) are hilarious. The audience on Tuesday doubled up with laughter at a good number of his jokes. Maqsood can hardly go wrong with his sharp use of pun and jibes. There’s a sequence in which Akbar, looking for a job, meets cricketer Imran Khan during Gen Ziaul Haq’s martial law, and their conversation about politics makes the crowd constantly giggle despite the predictability of Khan’s views on politics.
That’s all good and the show is a must-watch for entertainment value. At the same time, one couldn’t help notice the slapdash effort of the actors. Yes, one is aware that it is terribly cruel to compare master artists such as Shakil, Bushra Ansari and Salim Nasir to Abdullah Farhat (who plays Mahboob) Sara Bhatti (Jahan Ara), Yasir Hussain, Asad Gujjar (Chaudhry Sahib) and Hina Rizvi (Sultana, Chaudhry’s sister).
But it seems that apart from impersonating the mannerisms and copying the accents of the original characters, they haven’t made any attempt to understand the subtexts involved in the moves of those men and women. They were not one-dimensional parts; they had their sets of challenges and dreams.
Also, the overcharged energies with which Sara Bhatti, Abdullah Farhat, Asad Gujjar and Hina Rizvi act in the play gives the impression as if it’s a show that focuses on the principal characters’ past no matter what phase of their lives they are going through.
You hear Sara scream at the top of her lungs or Abdullah get up in a hurry after a fall from the takht and wonder if Bushra Ansari and Shakil could do that when they essayed these roles. Yasir is good at mimicry. And yet he needs to understand that there’s a slight difference between responding to a sentence and constantly readying himself for the response. Anchoring television programmes can do that to you.
As far as the plot is concerned, the idea to go back in time to know why Akbar shunned his beloved profession of dance is absolutely brilliant. It is the execution that leaves much to be desired. Here was a chance for Maqsood to lay bare the realities of Zia’s rule. He, instead, opted for the easy way out. Four job interviews of Akbar preceded by ‘item number’ type dance sequences, some discussion on Z.A. Bhutto and a bit of Gen Zia. The intelligent writer that he is, he could have exploited the plot to the hilt. He decided not to. Probably there’s a reason for it. We don’t know.
Originally published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019