It is difficult to describe or categorise renowned and popular writer Anwar Maqsood’s latest piece written for the theatre, Saadhay 14 August, dubbed the last of the trilogy (Pawnay 14 August and Sawa 14 August), which held its special show for the media on Tuesday evening at the Arts Council of Pakistan.
Is it a play? Well, it is, after all, it has characters in it. There is a plot… too. Is there a conflict in terms of creating tensions that keep the audience guessing about what’s going to happen next, the basic element that takes any story forward? Perhaps there is. Perhaps there isn’t. Perhaps Maqsood and his director Dawar Mehmood just wanted to give a good entertaining, full of fun, treat to their audiences, who are accustomed to the former’s guffaw-inducing one-liners. If that was the purpose, then Saadhay 14 August is high on the entertainment quotient. Anyone who needs a good, hearty laugh should go watch it.
The reason for coming up with the above-raised argument is that at the heart of the script are the two respected political leaders Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah —played by Omar Kazi, whose hand must be tired from constantly lifting cigars and pipes to his mouth throughout the performance and Gandhi,Tanveer Gill who did well and earned the most number of laughs but still needs to brush up on his Gujarati accent, that are asked to seek the opinion of the people on partition of the subcontinent after a case is filed against them for which they travel to four places — Kashmir, Lahore, Delhi and London. They are aided by an investigating officer (Jahanzeb Ali Shah) in their pursuit.
Now you would expect that since Jinnah and Gandhi in one frame, the past must come to the fore in order to examine the journey that their respective leadership led the people to embark on. Instead, the focus, as is usually the case with Maqsood, is more on the present socio-political environment of India and Pakistan (more of Pakistan), again, highlighted through witty and humorous one-liners. It works fine.
For example, when they are in Delhi, Gandhi and Jinnah see an item number being filmed or in Lahore they find themselves in the middle of a political showdown. That’s the set pattern of how the story moves throughout the production, relying on funny exchange of lines. Each shift in the backdrop (for which technology could have been used) is preceded by a large number of young girls and boys moving around the stage and in the aisles to the sound of music, creating a spectacle. There’s even a dance track thrown into the mix. A good recipe for a variety show!
Drama originated in ancient Greece with a pair of masks used as symbols of two muses, Thalia and Melpomene. The first is the muse of comedy, the second of tragedy. On Tuesday evening, the muse of comedy was invoked. Could it be that the distinguished writer doesn’t associate tragedy with partition anymore?
Originally published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022