Theatre in Pakistan may be at a standstill thanks to the coronavirus but there are little snippets that sometimes float out, hinting at exciting developments. One such snippet is a poster showing a map of the subcontinent, with a red line representing the Indo-Pak border. Jinnah and Gandhi’s images are at opposite ends of the poster and the words ‘coming soon’ are etched across the map.
On its own, the poster is ambiguous, simply implying a story centred around the history of Partition but not really specifying an association with theatre. Had this poster declared the name of the production that is coming, hopefully soon, it would have led to definite excitement.
It is, after all, the poster of Saadhay Chauda August, the third and final theatrical production in the theatrical trilogy initiated 10 years ago by playwright Anwar Maqsood and the thespian entourage Kopykats Productions. The series had started off with Pawnay Chauda August, a play that had been hugely successful, running to full houses and bringing back the trend of visiting the theatre. Sawa Chauda August was the second instalment, also winning extensive critical and commercial acclaim.
After this, the Chauda August omnibus was set aside with other plays like Aangan Terha and Half Plate coming into the spotlight. A collaboration with the late Haseena Moin was in the works, a theatrical version of her hit drama Ankahi. But then Covid upended theatre last year and continues to do so. A hope for better days in the near future led Maqsood to finally turn his attention to the ‘Chauda August’ series.
“I started writing Saadhay Chauda August but then I left it in the middle. Theatre had come to a standstill and it was the sort of drama that needed to be staged to a full house rather than an auditorium at a 40% or 50% capacity,” says the playwright. “Now though, the script is almost complete. I have still told Kopykats Productions that it should only be staged once things are better and theatres are fully open.”
In the meantime, Kopykats Productions is planning to stage their earlier hits, Pawnay and Sawa Chauda August later this summer. Given the continued onslaught of the coronavirus, it is likely that the plays will be shown to auditoriums filled up to only a fraction of their full capacity.
Kopykats Productions CEO Dawar Mehmood says, “We know that it will take some time for theatres to be fully functional but we do want to begin drawing people back to the stage. Pawnay and Sawa Chauda August were very successful but they were staged a while back and people may want to see them again. Also, there’s an entire new generation that has grown up and didn’t see the plays the first time around.”
Dawar did not comment on the upcoming Saadhay Chauda August — it is evidently a hush hush plan and besides, there’s no knowing when the play will finally be staged. Maqsood, however, says, “The play features interactions between Gandhi and Jinnah and is divided into four different parts: one set in Kashmir, the second in Lahore, then Delhi and the final part in Trafalgar Square.”
Recently, the playwright said in an interview that he no longer considered writing for TV an option because he did not agree with the content that he saw on local channels. “The entertainment trends set by TV today are not my style. My plays are serious. There is no vulgarity. There are messages even within my comic dialogues,” he said. “Theatre is more to my style.”
Does Maqsood think that Saadhay Chauda August will be staged soon? “Perhaps by next year,” he muses, “but we can’t be sure. It all depends on the coronavirus situation.”
In this very dismal scenario, it has been heard that the Karachi Arts Council is contemplating developing an open-air theatre, which would diminish the risk of contracting the virus even if a play was shown to a full audience. “Yes, it is something that they are working on,” confirmed Maqsood. “It may be the only secure option for now. Things were getting better but now they are getting worse again.”