Theatre in Pakistan has come a long way. From the oppressive days of General Zia ul Haq when censorship was enforced with a hammer head, to the ensemble productions of Chicago and Bombay Dreams, we have seen it all.
Today, theatre artists around the world are celebrating World Theatre Day, but theatre in Pakistan hasn’t progressed much in terms of content .What we have largely seen are either adaptations, translations or in some cases even plagiarised productions. Where has the original play gone?
“You are talking about original plays when the youth today doesn’t even read literature. How would they be able to write anything," notes Intezaar Hussain, a famous play and short story writer of Pakistan, while talking to The Express Tribune.
“There are people who are writing original plays such as Shahid Nadeem from Ajoka who have been there for long, but the question is: where is the youth? What are they up to? I haven’t seen a single original play written by a youngster. They are supposed to come up with new and original ideas.”
On the other hand Zain Ahmed, a relatively new addition to the theatre community and a faculty member of National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) believes that theatre cannot progress without originals.
“Theatre should reflect the national aspirations of a country. That is what makes it more relatable for the audience and if it fails to do so, then people will eventually get bored and it won’t progress as an art form.”
Ahmed believes that lack of original content is a grave issue and has economic, social and intellectual factors behind it.
“First of all theatre, and art at large, were never given due respect and importance in this country, especially compared to intellectuals and artists else where. Apart from that, there are such few theatre productions that a writer would prefer to write for TV rather than theatre, because he will get paid better and there is more demand.” While it is noble to create good theatre for the sake of art, one has to think of more practical matters such as income as well.
Zain also explained that “writing a drama is not as easy as writing a novel which can be done in a closed room.” Writing and performing a good original play requires collaborations between different individuals.
Zain believed that theatre groups like Ajoka and Tehrik-e-Niswan did original work back in the 80’s and they continue to do so, but greater responsibility lies on the shoulder of huge production companies that perform ensemble musicals.
“It’s high time that these huge production companies start performing original plays. They have the audience; they know the tricks, why not create an original play with a similar treatment for the Pakistani audience. They already have a market which can be expanded.”
He also mentioned that academic institutions should encourage original plays instead of adaptations and translations at school and university level so that the new blood doesn’t get used to the concept of adaptations.
However, Vasay Choudary, a Lahore based writer/director believes that a writer is a very unique commodity but sadly that is what the country has failed to create culturally.
“When I was a kid there were magazines like ‘Taleemo Tarbiyat’ in which kids from seven to 12 years of age used to write short stories and poems. It was something very amazing for me because I couldn’t write back then, but today when I have started writing where have all those naturally talented writers gone? Forced by parents into other professions? “
Vasay further added that apart from that, the readily available download versions of scripts from the internet have also contributed to the lack of playwrights.
“If I already have a tried and tested script easily available than why would I even hire a playwright? I can just take a print out. It is sad but that’s the harsh reality and it’s this mentality that is killing the real artists”
As Vasay believes, “Playwrights will only be created if you give them a chance to write and by performing English language western musicals you will only create fast food theatre but no original cuisine”.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.
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