KARACHI : The National Academy of Performing Arts’ (Napa) International Theatre and Music Festival has offered experiences that were transcendental, such as in Brigel Gjoka’s Hotel Propaganda and satirical as seen in Juloos, to the heart-wrenching Return to Palestine and Ikhtiar.
But then if you look at Da Bhagi Marg, staged on March 30, you’ll realise that it outright did not belong in the festival. Dubbed as the first Pashto play staged at Napa, the Rauf Afridi directorial was full of clichés and racial Pathan jokes made by (mostly) Pathans. Whether this was Rauf’s way of satire or merely his idea of good humour, I cannot say. Whatever it was, Da Bhagi Marg totally bombed.
The play, an adaptation of Italian playwright Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, revolved around an anarchist who dies while in police custody for questioning a bombing in which he played no part. It starred Alam Zeb Khan, Aham Ali Khan, Salman Ali Khan, Hammad Khan, Essa Khan and Rauf himself.
And while Da Bhagi Marg’s narrative structure and the entire handling of the ‘farce’ situation was plausible, and even the performances, especially Hammad’s, were strong enough, the content and humour were something that seemed right out of an Umar Sharif stage drama. They were jokes you might be comfortable sharing in your close friends’ circle but shouldn’t present on stage. And yet, to my surprise, everyone except a few enjoyed the play. Perhaps, I had expected a more refined adaptation. If the audience had come for some mindless entertainment, then the play succeeded.
One issue was the lack of subtitles or any help in understanding the Pashto dialogues. For non-Pashto speakers, this hindered understanding of the play. Combined with the brash humour, the message of how the media propagates misinformation and the social commentary was completely lost. It might have entertained the audience but lowered the standards set by the other plays staged before.
Wash yourself of low-brow humour
On the other hand, Joshinder Chaggar staged a solo experimental movement performance titled Wash Yourself of Yourself at the Napa basement theatre. Directed by Sunil Shankar, the hour-long performance was in total contrast to Da Bhagi Marg – experimental, creative and meditative. It saw Joshinder take the audience through the eye-opening journey of a woman from age five to 14 and beyond, exploring her childhood and how she grows up to the harsh realities of the world.
One sequence that stuck in mind was Joshinder, tired and buckling under the weight of a dozen handbags, chasing the spotlight in vain. One could see the struggle, emotion and exhaustion of her character’s soul on her face. The team must also be commended on the interesting use of lighting.
Yet surprisingly, this experimental piece did not receive as thunderous a response as one would expect. Sure, Wash Yourself of Yourself became a drag at some points but considering it was a one-woman show, Joshinder carried it well with her captivating movements and swan-like flow.
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