From the mesmerising set to the ensemble cast, “Avanti: The Grand Musical” was nothing short of a grand event. An onstage adaptation of the popular Indian film Aaja Nachle, “Avanti” is predictable but the journey it takes you on is worth the time spent in the theatre.
Directed by Javed Ahmed Saeedi, the musical is a complete commercial package with the right amount of satirical puns; for instance comparisons between Sheila (of “Sheila Ki Jawaani”) to Sharmila Farooqui got the audience rolling with laughter. Although the play was successful in entertaining the audience, it surely doesn’t add to the progress of theatre as a medium in Pakistan because it’s merely an adaptation, offering nothing original and out-of-the-box.
Keep on dancing
Zarmeena Yousuf, who played the protagonist Khwahish, is a relatively new girl on the block but has managed to gain a lot of fame in a very short period of time. Although short in height, Yousuf is a spellbinding dancer with a charming personality — all the qualities necessary for a dynamic stage presence. That said, she has a long way to go as far as acting is concerned. Yousuf is one of those who are forced into musicals just because of their command over dance and their good looks. Playing the main lead, she disappointed with her lacklustre performance. Had she infused more spirit and energy in her role, the character was sure to win the audience’s hearts.
The Lahori formula
Where regular performances by Lahore-based theatre groups have brought scores people in Karachi back to theatre halls, they have also created their own stereotype. For instance, the presence of either a eunuch, in some cases, a homosexual or maybe a cross-dresser, is must in their plays. They are usually followed by Bollywood-inspired elaborate dance performances and characters like a Sikh or an Arab Sheikh occasionally feature for a comedy of errors and mispronunciations.
Bushra Ansari’s salute to Saqib Sumeer
Despite occasional flying kisses by the eunuch (played by Rana Majid) and a variety of antics by the station house officer (played by Hashim Imran), the real star of the evening was Saqib Sumeer, who rose to fame with his outstanding performance in “Bombay Dreams” as well. He was the only actor on stage who was not playing multiple characters and was rather exposing yet another side of himself. And if this wasn’t enough, he also received a standing ovation by the legendary Bushra Ansari. “Saqib Sumeer I salute you,” said Ansari as the auditorium resonated with applauses. “There are many talented individuals amongst your team but Saqib is one of a kind; amazing work,” she added.
The real challenge
The almost three-hour long awe-inspiring work by Saeedi and his team tells a lot of about the amount of talent that Pakistan has in the field of performing arts. Such a well-coordinated performance also says a lot about the passion of our artists but at the same time it reiterates the fact that we can’t pull off something original of a high calibre. Those recalling “Karachi: The Musical” need to realise that while it was a notable effort, it wasn’t the best we could offer.
Like “Bombay Dreams” and “Tom, Dick and Harry”, “Avanti” is also an extension of adapted, if not copied, plays, where the overall plot and structure remain the same and it is only the songs and the choreography that keep on changing.
However, with that said, the musical, which runs till the June 25 at the Karachi Arts Council everyday at 8 pm, is a commendable effort and a must-watch.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2012.
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