The Khawatoons off to a funny but rocky start

Pakistan’s first all-girls comedy troupe keeps audience enthralled, despite moments of weakness

Nisma Chauhan July 26, 2016

KARACHI: Sitting on the floor of a cramped room, waiting for The Khawatoons to take centre stage was exhilarating. There had been much hype surrounding the event over social media and rightfully so, considering it is Pakistan’s very first all-girls comedy troupe. The anticipation was amplified when the lights went off and Beyonce’s popular feminist anthem Run the World came on in the dark, inviting Karachi-based comedian Faiza Saleem and her fellow performers to the stage. All clad in black shalwar kameez and colourful waistcoats, The Khawatoons delivered their first performance at Karachi’s Thotspot on July 23, opening to a youthful audience and marking debuts for four of its seven members.

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The improvisational jam – inspired by popular ’90s American comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway – began with lawyer and activist Mohammad Jibran Nasir narrating his poem Aurat in an attempt to diffuse some of the negativity created by Qandeel Baloch’s recent murder. His recitation naturally left the unsuspecting audience on a serious note but emcee Nusrah Arbab soon took over and kick-started the entertainment.

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Describing the concept of improvisational comedy as being “for the people, from the people”, Nusrah invited the girls in groups of two or three for impromptu game shows, one after the other. The first 20 minutes of the entire performance were attributed to games called Freestyle, Paper Chase and Questions which resonated with the audience. Faiza, Amafah Mubashir, Rabiya Hamid, Sana Ahmed Khan and Natalia Gul Jillani took slapstick digs at one another and themselves, with lines like ‘Kya aap ko pata hai, aap scene drag kar rahi hain?’ (do you realise you are dragging the scene) and ‘Maine aap ko fat jokes ke baray mein kya kaha tha?’ (What did I tell you about fat jokes?). What followed were interesting, moment-to-moment discourses between the talented comedians that surely tickled ones funny bone.

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What was interesting is that with every game, the audience’s reactions seemed to advance but performers seemed to be working inversely. As time passed, they looked more and more out of focus and at times, fell into long pauses as though thinking through before improvising. Unfortunately, when it comes to improvisational performances, pauses of even just five seconds may appear as long as a lifetime and kill the show’s spontaneity. Also, some punch lines that reinforced national stereotypes, such as the character of a Chinese woman with an odd accent and fat-shaming – could have irked the more sensitive spectators.

Having said that, the tongue-in-cheek remarks were accounted for by the most experienced Khawatoon of the troupe, Faiza, who hesitantly but cleverly gave in to the labels as well. “Acha, ab agar stereotype kar hi rahe hain toh theek hai,” (Alright, if we’re going to use stereotypes then okay).

All in all, the concept of eight games in a span of 90 minutes passed at breakneck speed and often seemed a tad contrived. The clichés and broad, hammy reactions may not have marked the best debut for The Khawatoons. However, the offset innuendos and banter kept the room echoing with laughter. And most importantly, the show indeed created a space for women in Pakistan’s growing comedy sphere, bringing the funny woman ideal to the forefront. The Khawatoons are definite trailblazers who will soon be taking the road less travelled all the way to Lahore, for their subsequent performance.


Brainy Bhaijan | 7 years ago | Reply The audience in the picture looks very posh. I suppose they are sort of private invitation-only events. Would be good if they went mainstream. Start with posting on YouTube so that common viewers like us can have a laugh for free.
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