She may claim to feel “passively” about theatre but it is not difficult to spot Farheen Zehra at various plays, silently enjoying herself in the audience. Recently, she has been dipping her toes in stage acting.
One can thank her husband, actor Adnan Jaffar, for this, as he was the one who pushed for Zehra’s transition from a young, school actor to a professional theatre artist. “I had been acting on and off since my school days in Rawalpindi but my first foray into professional acting was in a NAPA production by Khalid Ahmed,” recalled Zehra while speaking with The Express Tribune. “It was an Urdu adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I played the Duchess,” she added.
Zehra does not, however, pursue stage acting very seriously. “My husband is more of the actor among us — I’m just an occasional one.” This comes as a bit of a surprise, considering her few but powerful performances. Despite her knack for acting, Zehra prefers pen over the spotlight and claims to be an avid writer and also runs Qissah Farosh, a company of sorts, specialising in reading excerpts and engaging literary enthusiasts. “This project is a triple partnership comprising my better half Adnan, my friend Zohair Raza and I,” explained Zehra. “Most recently, we held an excerpts reading session at Orangi Pilot Project in mid-January, where the team members read passages from Muhammad Asad Khan’s works.” The event was held on the occasion of the late social worker Parween Rahman’s birth anniversary.
Pushing the envelope of Pakistani theatre
Prior to this, Qissah Farosh has organised similar readings to commemorate the works of Patras Bukhari, Mirza Farhatullah Baig and Shafiqur Rahman. The events happen annually and although Zehra hopes to do them more frequently, she does not feel pressed for time. “Both Adnan and I have parallel careers and do not wish to expand the entity, at least for now,” she said. “Adnan is super busy with his schedule so we are unable to hold sessions more often.”
In the meantime, Zehra serves as a volunteer for a local not-for-profit organisation called Desi Writers Lounge (DWL) which was formed in 2006 as a platform to support aspiring South Asian writers. When asked to explain the keen focus on South Asia, she held her own. “This is undoubtedly a community for aspiring writers. Work from South Asia is being considered primarily because these voices have no other way to be heard,” stated Zehra. “Secondly, they relay the experiences of all sorts of people. Also, the West has painted a one-sided picture of our story.” She cited the younger generation of South Asian writers as a major motivating factor, adding that their voices have to be heard too. “We must give good criticism to the young writers’ for their work,” she stressed.
Hoping to bring about a change, Zehra voluntarily looks after the Karachi chapter of DWL. “I always wanted to write but somehow, it went to the back-burner. But I have become more serious about it over the past three years,” she shared. “I’m seeking a number of new opportunities this year, both personally and professionally. But as far as acting goes, it will have to take the back seat. I will only focus upon writing and completing all my projects this year.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2016.
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