A night brimming with diversity

Published: March 20, 2017
A still from Return to Palestine. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

A still from Return to Palestine. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

A still from Return to Palestine. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

KARACHI: It doesn’t happen often that television actors turn to theatre. But the National Academy of Performing Arts’ (Napa) International Theatre and Music Festival brought some of the big stars to the stage in a presentation of iconic short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto’s stories.

The play, titled Absolut Manto, was directed by Kanwal Khoosat and starred Sarmad Khoosat, Irfan Khoosat, Feryal Ali Guahar and Sania Saeed. With different short stories providing a glimpse of Manto’s life, the play crafted a study which touched upon his work, writings and philosophy.

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“This is the brainchild of my sister and we have been doing it for the past few years,” Sarmad told The Express Tribune. “It’s basically dramatic readings on stage and it’s obviously very different from the film. It has nothing to do with the film Manto. This is the franchise that Kanwal has created and this is the first time we were performing in Karachi.”

Meanwhile Irfan believes there is more scope of serious theatre in Karachi than in Punjab. “Every city has a different vibe. I felt that, because there has been a lot of work put in through the years, people are more accepting of serious theatre here.”

Asked about the Khoosat family’s interest in the iconic writer, Irfan recounted a story. “Every family has a role model, you see. Ours is Saadat Hasan Manto. When Sarmad was young and he wanted to write, I told him he would need to read first. And that’s when I brought him Manto nama. It all goes back to those times,” he said.

Meanwhile, the festival’s ‘international’ aspect came into play when a Palestinian troupe performed on Saturday night. Jenin-based The Freedom Theatre’s production Return to Palestine revolved around a Palestinian, born and brought up in America, who decides to return to his homeland in search of his identity.

The actors limited themselves on stage in the space of a few feet, signifying the restriction of their land and people by wars. In fact, instead of using one, the actors’ bodies themselves became props. The actors folded into an airplane, a car, the streets and all things Palestine, when the scenes demanded. The experimental nature of the play, which had half a dozen actors wearing black turtlenecks and trousers depicting everything ranging from lives and sceneries in two continents, was astounding.

The minimal stage setup also makes it easy to perform anywhere from an auditorium to streets.

Palestinian theatre troupe to perform in Karachi

The transitions reminded me of the stylistic conversion of one element into others in animated films. One moment, you are looking at a face and the next, it transforms into stars colliding in space. Apart from the visual style, the play told a heart wrenching story in a sarcastic and comic way, which had the entire in tears by the end.

Summing up the entire tragic history of Palestine, its transformation from a land of laughter to a camp of tears, Return to Palestine hit all the right notes and became a memorable, awakening and personally emotional experience – necessary for everyone to witness at least once.

One of the cast members, Motaz Malhees, said they have performed all over the world, but “it was special performing in front of a Pakistani audience because we are the same people.”

The International Theatre and Music Festival continues until April 2 with different plays and musical performances each day.

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