Before the madman appeared, there came a moan in Seraiki, maidhi dhee koon maar ghattaissan (they will kill my daughter). It reverberated through the hall.
With the background music fading out, this moaning madman, in tatters, emerged on the stage of “Wat Nakhray”, with a doll in his hands. He captivated the audience with his moaning and cursing of some unknown killers of his daughter.
The interest and suspense that he and the mysterious story associated with him managed to create lasted till climax.
“Wat Nakhray”, a Seraiki play, was presented on Friday by Ravi Rang Welfare Society of Dera Ghazi Khan at Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) as part of its ongoing drama festival.
Written and directed by a local Seraiki artist, Mehmood Chaudhry, the play was based on the issue of watta satta, a custom still in practice in many tribal and less developed areas of Pakistan. It is a custom where, at the time of marriage, both families trade brides. The girl of one family is wedded into the other, and vice versa.
Chaudhry tried to send his message across in a typical Seraiki way of storytelling, masterfully blending humour, singing and dance into the main storyline. The audience, mostly from southern Punjab, were equally responsive.
Where they laughed off a few hiccups in acting and direction, they also wholeheartedly enjoyed and applauded the comedy, the songs and the good performances.
“Wow! Zabardast (great),” was a loud reaction to the madman’s second appearance where he, empty handed this time, broke in tears and told the audience, “They killed my daughter.”
Set up in a rural area of Dera Ghazi Khan, the story revolved around two families who had a watta satta. Not only had the marriages gone wrong, the watta satta had created a running murder feud between the families.
The play tried to show to the people that the watta satta marriages almost never succeed and the resulting feuds are deep rooted in the tradition and culture of the tribal societies and consume even the educated.
Mahnoor, the protagonist, was a well-educated daughter of the village chief. She was given in watta to a man from another landlord family, Akbar Khan, whose sister was married to Mahnoor’s brother.
The two marriages soon went sore when Mahnoor’s husband sends her to her parents’ in reaction to the death of his father, which he wrongly blamed on his father-in-law. To avenge his father’s death, he killed his brother-in-law and the two girls eventually ended up at their parent’s houses.
The two families developed an unending hatred for each other and even the educated Mahnoor got carried away and never realised that in their feud, many innocents (servants and guards) would be killed for no reason.
Akbar actually wanted to become the sole chief of the village so he wanted to remove his father-in-law and his legal heirs. He was the one who had killed the teenage daughter of the madman for his association with Khan’s rivals.
However, the play ended on an optimistic note with the villain realising his wrongdoings and eventually forgiven by both his wife and father-in-law, but not before getting arrested for killing the madman in a moment of fury.
The few mistakes in the execution of the play did not detract from the experience. The acting was good, since the cast mostly comprised senior actors with vast experience of theatre.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.
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