“Theatre is one of the most expressive and useful vehicles for the edification of a country’s people, and a barometer that marks the country’s greatness or declines,” stated Spanish poet, dramatist and theatre director Frederico Garcia Lorca. Like the economy in general, Pakistani theatre, along with other forms of art, also saw a rough patch in the last few years. Hence, on the occasion of the World Theatre Day, Faisal Malik, Artistic Director for Thespianz Theatre, brought together theatre practitioners and members of the Sindh Cultural Department, to discuss ways of boosting the economic infrastructure of the country through theatre performances.
Although the event was peppered by the attendance of big names of the theatre industry, the absence of certain crucial members — Sheema Kermani of Tehrik-i-Niswan, Khaled Anum of Gripps Theatre, Nida Butt of Made for Stage Productions and Hasan Rizvi of BodyBeat Dance Studio — did not go unnoticed. Those present at the event included Abdul Aziz Uqaili who is Secretary Cultural Department Government of Sindh, Javed Yousuf who is currently the Director General at United Nations International Association for Children and Young People, Sohail Malik, Artistic Director for Karachi Drama Circle, Faisal Malik of Thespianz Theatre and Nasir Salim, the Director Cultural Affairs at Pak-American Cultural Centre.
Follow the norms
The discussion kicked off with Yousuf making a relevant point regarding sticking to Pakistani cultural and religious norms when producing a play. In other words, he was of the opinion that keeping the present law and order situation of the country in mind, it was necessary to remain within the domains of religion and societal norms. “We need to strengthen and enhance our theatre, but within a certain domain. With extremism on the rise in the troubled North of the country, we should not promote anything that becomes an obstacle for the growth of theatre overall.”
Then came Sohail Malik, who talked about how red-tapism can negatively impact the growth of any industry. “Theatre hasn’t developed in Pakistan the way it should have. There are too many official rules and formalities that need to be fulfilled before a play gets on stage. This is a hindrance in the growth of theatre,” he said while pointing out the hassle that a theatre director has to go through while obtaining an NOC from the District Commissioner’s office, then submitting it in the Press Information Department and then going to the Excise Department to pay a 10 per cent tax.
The thin line
Finally, Uqaili added to the ongoing discussion, saying “If you plan to run it as a business, you need to invest in theatre and performing arts. The Arts Council is flourishing and it is a good sign, but the National Museum Hall in Karachi requires some serious renovation, so it can be used for theatrical activities.” He further stated, “For the first time, a Sindh government official is requesting you to bring on stage two plays and the only condition is that they shouldn’t be vulgar. They would be completely supported by my government.”
However, the term ‘vulgar’ is controversial and the next question that arises is: “Who defines vulgarity and what exactly is classified as vulgar? “It’s for the audience to decide that and not for us,” said Sohail Malik. In a conclusive reply to that, Uqaili added, “We don’t want the kind of commercial theatre that exists in Lahore. The plays should be based on classic themes like the life or works of Shakespeare, Bhitai or Ghalib.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.